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Many of the people of the world are fast becoming interconnected by means of the Internet. In the popular culture the significance of the Internet is believed to be that it will be easier to do research and perhaps to do banking or shopping in the future because it can be done electronically. Many of the people actually using the Internet on a daily basis are coming to realize that widespread use of the Internet is causing a social, intellectual, and cultural revolution comparable to that caused more slowly by the invention of the printing press in 1450.
This is because that more significant than its potential for commerce and research is the Internet's potential as a catalyst for social change. I believe that the most significant long term effects of the Internet will be the creation of a virtual global village and the accompanying ability of each of us to publish a home page reflecting our views of ourselves and of the world.
I have lived in a college town with access to various cultural events such as movies, plays, concerts, art shows, and intellectual discussions about every night. I have also lived in a rural area with few people capable of discussing ideas. The latter is intellectually stifling. The Internet enables people living under these circumstances to access a virtual world and find people more like themselves. Lest this be considered an elitist view it should be noted that the same will apply to people of every level of sophistication among those who have access.
There is, of course, the concern among many liberals that this will lead to a society of benefit to those who have access and the corresponding relative impoverishment of those who do not; in effect a two class society. This effect, though a legitimate concern, is, so far, unproven and irrelevant to this discussion.
In such a virtual world it is easier to meet others and to become more intimately acquainted with them in less time than is possible in the real world. By viewing the contents of a stranger's home page it is relatively easy to determine if the person is a racist, a bubble head or a thinker; a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker.
We find that some home pages tend toward impressing us with meaningless form while others contain original content. That content may be pleasing and highly significant or meaningless drivel. That home page may be a well designed thing of beauty or a quickly thrown together junkyard. But in all cases we tend to know more about the person after a visit to the home page and a few exchanges of email than we might know about a physical neighbor who has lived next door for a year.
We also find in these relationships that such things as race, age, physical appearance, and physical infirmities become irrelevant while intellect and personality assume greater importance. This is a great boon to many people who have been at a social disadvantage in the "real" world.
In this "Brave New World" preservation of freedom of expression is more essential than ever because in such a virtual world there is concern by the narrow minded about wider dissemination of views contrary to their own. Indeed there seem to be some already who see the Internet as the devil's workshop, although I think these people have never really used the Net, at least not enough to become Netizens. It is interesting that I have never found any Netizen who favored any form of censorship on the Net. I'm sure there must be a few such. But the truth is that although all Netizens know that so called "objectionable" material is available, they also know that they will have to seek it out to find it and they are less likely to be exposed by accident to something they find objectionable on the Net than they would be at a local sports event or on the street or on television. The net is an easy target for ignorant or unscrupulous politicians who look for a straw man to attack for political advantage.
Another danger to the net is in the threat it poses to the entrenched telecommunications and print industries. The main problem is that the Internet is cheap and available to all. It is the ultimate in freedom and democracy. This is a threat to corporations which make their profits by the control of communications. We must be very vigilant about efforts to control and regulate the Net and always ask ourselves, "Exactly who stands to gain by such control?"
It is interesting to me that in some places there is a tendency to organize in web space virtual towns and communities. Examples like Blacksburg which is a virtual reflection of a physical town and Silica Virtual Town which only exists as a virtual town come to mind.
Another thing that amazes me is the number of virtual activities on the net
So it seems to me that the Internet will be the vehicle for creation of a future of wider discussions of ideas and philosophies and of lives lived in both a physical and a virtural world; a virtual world devoid of most physical limitations. Of course, it is also true that just as television gave us the potential for more Nova and National Geographic Specials and Ken Burns, it also gave us more Geraldo and Oprah; the Internet will have both its positive and its negative aspects.
If you have some thoughts about the Internet along these lines please take time to write a short sentence, paragraph or essay and send it to me. I will put some of the best on this page.
People to People - How to be an active participant on this Internet site.
December 5, 1995
Last revised March 12, 2000.
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Duane Bristow (email@example.com)
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