Tomorrow's standard computers and their peripheral equipment will instantly recognize a handwritten note, a design or drawing which they will store and instantly retrieve in original form. The computer of the future will respond to commands from human voices in different languages and with different vocal inflections. ... It will be possible eventually for any individual sitting in his office, laboratory, or home to query a computer on any available subject and within seconds to receive an answer. ... This will set in motion forces of change within the social order. It will affect man's way of thinking, his means of education, his relationships to his physical and social environment, and it will alter ways of living (Kerr 1982:89).Those who venture daily into "cyberspace," the now-familiar realm of computer networks, may be tempted to consider the above statement a "no-brainer." After all, it merely describes a world with which most of us are quite familiar. But these words take on a different ring when we realize they are from a speech given by David Sarnoff in 1964. He was boldly predicting technological marvels and fundamental socioeconomic effects that may well have prompted skeptics of his generation to regard him as some sort of futuristic science fiction freak. Looking back through the colored glasses of today's realities, however, we can see clearly that he was indeed a man ahead of his time.
Five years later what we know today as the Internet had its beginning, with no hint that it would evolve into a network accessible by the public. Like many other great ideas, the "network of networks" grew out of a project that began with far different intent. This fact is explained in a recent issue of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine:
Until recently, most Americans didn't know the Internet existed. It was created quietly 20 years ago by the U.S. Department of Defense as a decentralized communications network that could withstand a nuclear attack. Later, the National Science Foundation hooked into the system and made its supercomputer centers available for scholarly research. Universities then connected to those centers. Other government agencies, libraries, universities and major corporations created their own networks to take advantage of the Internet's research potential. Today, anyone with a modem and a computer can access the Internet once they sign on with a service provider, either a free public one or a paid service such as America Online or Delphi (Sheets 1994:160).
If there are tools and techniques that can aid us in doing a better job, we should use them. Without question, the Internet is just such a tool. No doubt meaningful collaborative research -- an ideal Internet application -- can enhance our efforts and help us avoid mistakes. Continuing education for missionaries and leadership training for converts are other areas of service that can be aided significantly by the Internet. Consider, if you will, some of the ways in which the Internet can help us:
- Electronic Mail: You can use e-mail to correspond with friends, business colleagues and strangers with common interests. You can also make requests for database searches through electronic mail and have the results posted to you (Smith and Gibbs 1994:13). Electronic mail is fast, powerful, and addictive; once you have worked with it, you will wonder how you got along without it. A letter routed electronically has enormous advantages over conventional mail, not the least of which is the speed of its delivery. Internet regulars say it all when they refer to the U.S. Postal Service as "snail mail." Unlike a letter printed on paper, an electronic mail message can be stored on your computer disk. You can handle it like any other file, pulling it into your word processor for editing or printing, or perhaps forwarding it to another person you think would be interested (Gilster 1993:127-129). And there is more, considerably more. You can write one e-mail message and direct it to multiple sites. Recipients can read your message at their leisure and then respond to it. More than any other medium, e-mail lets you master your own schedule thus allowing you to handle business when you have time. There seems to be no e-mail equivalent to the menace of "phone tag."
- File Transfer: Files can be found everywhere on the Internet. To assist in research you have the ability to pull down a file to get data or run a program. You can also copy files from your computer to someone else's.
- Run Programs on Other Computers: By using the Telnet protocol you have the ability to reach out from your computer and run a program on another computer halfway around the world.
- Search for Files and Databases: Systems on the Internet such as "Arch- ie" and "Gopher" enable you to search thousands of computers worldwide, gaining access to an almost limitless amount of data.
- Discussion Groups: Because the Internet is used by millions of people, it is a natural place to make contact and exchange views with those with whom you share common interests.
- Play Games and Talk: Through the Internet you can have "conversa tions" with people all over the world in real time (which means you type something and they see it as soon as you send it). You can also participate in single- and multi-user role-playing games (Smith and Gibbs 1994:13, 14).
Sometimes technological limitations present significant challenges. For instance, the Internet's international expansion is at present hampered by the lack of a good supporting infrastructure, namely a decent telephone system. In both Eastern Europe and the third world, a state-of-the-art phone system is virtually nonexistent. However, as phone systems improve, this will change (Krol 1993:16).
Instead of feeling surrounded by information, first-timers ("newbies" in the jargon of the Net) are likely to find themselves adrift in a borderless sea. But old-timers say the first wave of dizziness doesn't last long. "It's like driving a car with a clutch," says Thomas Lunzer, a network designer at SRI International, a California consulting firm. "Once you figure it out, you can drive all over the place." As successive waves of netters join the fray they demand, and eventually get, more user-friendly tools for navigating the Internet. In fact, anyone with a desktop computer and a modem connecting it to a phone line can now find ways into and around the network (Elmer-DeWitt 1993:63).Readers of Time magazine are familiar with the thoughts of Philip Elmer-DeWitt. His advice should help those needing extra encouragement to "take the plunge" into the Internet:
The Internet has become a lot more user-friendly over the past few years, the result in large part of the emergence of such well-organized services as the World Wide Web and programs like Mosaic that take much of the pain and suffering out of navigating the Net. World Wide Web is an organizing system within the Internet that makes it easy to establish links between computers around the world. Mosaic is a "browser" that presents the information in the Web in the point-and-click format so familiar to Macintosh and Windows users. If Mosaic has a weakness, it is that most computer users are not prepared to go through the hoops necessary to get it up and running. To address that problem, O'Reilly & Associates, a publisher based in Sebastopol, California, has introduced a product called Internet in a Box that puts everything a user needs to establish a direct Internet connection in one easy-to-use package (Elmer-DeWitt 1994:60).
Most of these services are available only in the U.S. CompuServe, an exception to this rule, offers local access to many major cities throughout the world. Take your laptop anywhere you go and e-mail goes with you. Even if this involves a long distance call to retrieve messages, it means that you are always able to stay in touch. During last summer's trip to eleven countries throughout Europe I was still able to maintain almost daily contact with my wife. Talk about a blessing!
- Prodigy, 800/776-3449, supplies software and a month's service in its widely discounted $49.95 membership kit. After that, reaching its 1.8 million members and services costs $14.95 per month.
- America Online, 800/827-6364, furnishes free software with zippy graphics and sound. Membership is $9.95 per month plus $2.95 per hour after that. Members get two hours of free connect time monthly and pay nothing extra to use the service as a gateway.
- CompuServe, 800/848-8199, is an infonut's dream, with 1 million members spread over hundreds of discussion groups. Cost of basic service is $8.95 a month. There is a slight surcharge after sending 60 free E-mail messages per month. Gateway E-mail also carries a small surcharge.
- GEnie, 800/638-9636, at $8.95 per month for four hours ($3.00 per hour after that) and no connect charges from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m., GEnie is the cheapest, but beginners often bog down in the confusing menus (Sussman 1992:93).
- Delphi, 800/695-4005, unlike most commercial services, provides full access to all the Internet tools and disk space for file transfer data storage. Delphi offers a choice of charge plans which most users find to be quite reasonable.
For those hoping to arrange getting connected to a "lesser-networked country," or help someone in an area with hard to find service, the Institute for Global Communications (IGC) may be able to help. The address is 18 DeBoom Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, telephone: 415/442-0220; fax: 415/546-1794; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Those wishing to connect in the former Soviet Union may consult Dr. Werner Klotzbuecher, a German research chemist who is a "trail blazer" in computer-assisted information and communication for this area. In a September, 1992 article in Online magazine he provides valuable information about e-mail services in Russia and the breakaway republics. He invites comments and inquiries by e-mail ( email@example.com) (Klotzbuecher 1992:106-108).
The January 1994 issue of Online magazine, beginning on page 16, presents an extensive list of books about the Internet as well as reviews of several of the most helpful ones. Of particular interest to us is Internet: Getting Started, because it is written with an international slant. April Marine is the editor of this valuable book from SRI International's Internet Information Series, published in 1993 by Prentice Hall. The book contains an enormous listing of national network providers and providers of dial-up services with detailed contact information as well as contributions from people involved with these networks. This is the book to have if you are looking for an Internet connection outside the U.S. (Garman 1994:16-25).
The best way to learn is to simply "jump in." Once you learn to send a message -- a rather simple procedure, REALLY! -- some of your first postings may, in effect, scream: "Help!" Electronically, of course. That is okay. Your service provider will include some sort of help package. CompuServe's is called "Feedback." On system at Abilene Christian University (ACU), lovingly dubbed "MOSES," we have "Help Desk." If you have a full-service Internet connection, call the ACU Missions Department and request ROADMAP. We will send you via e-mail a self-paced instruction course covering most aspects of the Internet. Call for Gwynneth Curtis or Richard Chowning at 915/674-3711 or post an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
We have deluded ourselves into believing that our scientific skills, modern technology, and high-powered business methods, if applied to the church, can usher in the kingdom of God on a grand world-wide scale. The proud shout of the twentieth-century church is to reach the whole world for Christ in our generation. It is always assumed that this will be accomplished by means of mass communi- cation: literature, radio, television, films, aircraft, satellites, and computer technology.Hmmmm....
Would you care to venture a guess as to the source of this insightful comment? You guessed it -- the Internet! It was quoted from an e-mail message I received a few days ago from a discussion group to which I subscribe. I do not even know the name of the author, but I do know his Internet address: LittleAsa@aol.com. Why not reach out through cyberspace and ask him for a comment or two to "spice up" the next segment of this discussion?
After all, that is the kind of thing the Internet does.
1994 "Hooked Up to the Max," Time (September 26) 58-60.