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I have been using computers, writing computer programs, and making a living from computers for 18 years. I first went online in 1978 by accessing Compuserve at 300 baud from a modem at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Kentucky.
The World Wide Web on the Internet is about two years old. Back when the web was young(er), about eight months ago, I went there and built a virtual home. I called it Duane and Eva's Old Kentucky Home Page. Since then Eva and I have done a lot of things in this virtual world that would have been impractical or impossible in the "real" world. Let me tell you about some of them. Let's look at the people we've met, the places we've been, the things we've done, and the meaning of it all.
A lady named Cynthia who lives in Texas helped me find a place to build this virtual home. I helped her decide to build a virtual memorial to her deceased brother on the WWW.
I helped a city council member named Roger from Paintsville, Kentucky to identify and learn about a tree in his neighbor's yard and he told me about a civic project, Mountain Home Place, a working 1850's appalachian farm, under development in his city which will soon be on the Web.
We kept in touch with our nephew, Steve, while he was attending Berea College by email messages sent every few days. Much faster than snail mail.
A visitor who uses the name, Gigi, stopped by our virtual home to visit. Gigi is from Italy. He sent me a message and invited me to visit his virtual home in Italy. I did so an hour or so later and met his wife and son, and took a tour of his home town on the Mediterranean coast and learned about his work and lifestyle.
I discussed the Web with a guy named Jim from Perth, Australia. He migrated there from the United States by way of England where he obtained a wife. They are now producing a play they wrote. About Christmas I taunted him with stories of cold and snow. He lives in a hot sandy climate and the days are often over 100 degrees around Christmas time.
A forester named Karl from Sweden told me about the forestry school he attends and invited me to visit his virtual home. When I visited I found that he has pages in English as well as Swedish.
I visited the WWW home page of a technology columnist named Ric with the "Courier Journal" newspaper in Louisville and he gave me internet addresses of some people to contact about increasing the public's access to the Internet in Kentucky.
I played a computer strategy game with a 12 year old boy named Josh from Vancouver, British Columbia for several months. He told me about his school and his interests. Later I played the same game with a number of other people from all over the world. I am presently playing with a psychology graduate student from Pennsylvania.
I wanted to locate a particular poem by Stephen Vincent Benet, so I asked on the Internet. About three hours later I got a nice message from a lady named Katherine in Boston, Mass. She said that if I would visit her virtual home, I would find the poem laying on the desk and I could take a copy. I did and while I was there I took a quick look at the reference materials she has in her study and stopped by her kitchen where I met a few of her friends.
Eva and I had spent about an hour in a virtual conference room listening to a question and answer session with about 125 other people. The guest was Charles Keating, an actor on NBC's "Another World". After the conference was over we left the conference room and happened to notice an NBC News chat room. We wandered in and were soon in a conversation with Today Show newsman, Matt Lauer. We found that we had a difference of opinion about how much coverage O. J. should be given on news shows. While I said that the O. J. trial was too insignificant for the amount of coverage it was given on the nightly news each night, Mr. Lauer seemed to think the coverage was about right. Eva was impressed by my arguments though, when for the next three nights there was less coverage of O. J. on the nightly news.
Jarmo Saarikko from Finland was nice enough to drop by, check our information on Forestry, and make our Forestry Page a part of the Internet wide WWW - Virtual Library - Forestry Page.
John Quackenboss of "Science and the Environment" magazine stopped by and said hello.
I talked by email with Damir, a Bosnian studying in Germany, about the situation in Bosnia.
I exchanged email with a lady named Karin in the Netherlands. She is confined to a wheel chair and uses the Internet as her window on the world.
We found the virtual home of Ann & Thor, a couple who have never met in the real world, have separate families, but became friends on the Internet and decided to build a virtual home page together.
People from over 40 different countries have visited our virtual home. About 40 to 60 people visit each day and they usually look at about 125 pages of information daily. Those numbers, though, are increasing all the time. Our virtual home contains about 300 pages of information and about 100 pictures.
On a cold snowy day last winter, Eva and I spent about an hour exploring the virtual New York Botanical Gardens wandering down paths from garden to garden and seeing the lakes and ponds and streams and flowers and plants and trees.
We've looked at the artwork in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
We've visited The White House and The Louvre and Finland and China and Nepal and Antarctica and The Smithsonian Institution and Hawaii and Blacksburg, Virginia and Northern Ireland and Pennsylvania Dutch Country and New Orleans and Jack Daniels Distillery and South Central Kentucky and North Central Tennessee on the Web.
We took a virtual steam boat cruise on the Mississippi on the S. S. Cherokee Bell.
We looked in detail at the Islamic architecture of Isfahan in Iran and at the colors of Autumn in Oak Creek Canyon in California.
We looked at a collection of pictorial postcards of Houston, Texas and looked at art in art galleries in Canada and Australia and at a collection of Vietnamese art at the University of North Carolina.
We checked out a collection of photographs of Graffiti found on walls in Boston and Paris and Rio.
We enjoyed scenes of old growth forests and magnificent appalachian mountains when we visited Blanton Forest in Harlan County Kentucky and Hoh River Rain Forest. We also enjoyed the Northeast Georgia Mountains and the Appalachian Trail.
We can watch over the Internet through video cameras:
We've listened to Jazz in new arrangements of Beatles tunes.
We've watched a wonderfully colorful and detailed comic book called Argon Zark being drawn and put on the Internet, one page per week, and we've checked out full color drawings of Calvin and Hobbes from a computer in the Netherlands as well as looking through back issues of Doonesbury.
We've listened to audio interviews from the players in The Gulf War ranging from an Iraqi private to the generals, politicians, and diplomats on all sides. This includes the stories of soldiers taken prisoner of war, bomber pilots, and Kuwaiti civilians.
We've been able to play the The International Lottery in Liechtenstein.
When our community became part of a Federal Rural Empowerment Zone we looked up the application for the project on the Net and later when part of the use of funds proposed became controversial we read about that on the Net.
We read the latest News, Weather, and sports on the Web.
We also read magazines like The Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones, Hot Wired Magazine, Science and the Environment, The New Scientist, Christian Science Monitor, TIME, and U. S. News and World Report on the Web.
We find that we can find out more about Political issues and contests and candidates and become more informed and thus better citizens by means of the information available on the Internet.
For entertainment on the Internet we can find cases from Court TV and make our own decisions and solve fictional mystery crimes and explore and interact in The Virtual Rome or solve Riddles and Contests.
My son needed to write a psychology paper for school and he wanted to pick a unique subject, so we explored the web and finally found a number of first hand accounts of near death, out of body experiences, on a computer in Finland along with commentary on them.
Eva was given a new high blood pressure medication by her doctor so we searched out a tremendous amount of material about hypertension, heart disease, and comparative studies of various preventative treatments including drugs and non drug treatments.
When we had questions about seizures in our cat, we got information from a veterinarian on the Net and from a number of cat owners with similiar experiences all over the world.
Our son and daughter-in-law are raising a family and often have questions about parenting. The Net is a wonderful source of information from experts, from research, and just from other on-line parents.
Our younger son is starting college. On the Net we can download a program by the federal government of information on student financial aid and a privately written book on the subject with worksheets and strategies for obtaining the maximum amount of aid, plus we can do a net search for scholarships which might apply.
My sister mentioned one night that her older model microwave oven had quit working and that she wasn't going to get it fixed due to its age. I said, "Let's do some shopping on the net." Within fifteen minutes we had narrowed down a listing of over 150 microwave ovens to the brand and model she wanted, read a description, seen a picture and placed an order. The microwave arrived by UPS about three days later. She is very happy with the price and the model. She saved money. She said that was the first time she had ever been able to find the exact model recommended by Consumer Reports. I also often purchase video cameras for local people on the Net and I can find books I want there that don't seem to be available elsewhere.
We've looked into the depths of space by looking at wonderfully detailed pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope. We also saw the pictures beamed back from the Galileo space craft now orbiting Jupiter. And we've seen micro slices though the body of a human corpse.
We found our home page banned in Germany because it is in the same virtual community on the same server with 1500 other home pages, one of which belongs to a neo-nazi. It seems that since the Germans didn't like what he had to say but couldn't figure out how to ban his page separately, they just banned all 1500 of us.
We joined the Blue Ribbon Campaign, , to protest Net censorship.
We published the history of our family and information about our community.
We set up a virtual tour of our home and of our farm.
We published essays and philosophy and poetry and original humorous stories.
We published a Forest Management Workshop Manual and a number of essays about Education in Rural Kentucky.
We spread the rules for Albany Canasta, a version of the canasta card game that we invented and have been playing for several years, all around the world.
We established a couple of world wide intellectual contests.
We asked questions of and answered questions for the Usenet Oracle at Indiana.
When Eddie Lovelace, a local judge, won statewide judical honors, we publicized that on the Internet and when Jack Ferguson, a local merchant, published a book of early Clinton County history we publicized that with excerpts from the book.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
Last revised February 25, 1996.
Duane Bristow (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Keywords: "Clinton County", "Kentucky", "Albany", "Bristow".