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Internet – So What? Part I Internet as Telephone.

In my last musing on this topic I discussed the uses of the internet in the most general sense. In this and subsequent articles I want to bring out individual uses and the appropriateness and their pitfalls. On the way, I hope to raise questions in your mind and my own about how we can use this resource.
The internet as a technology allows for the exchange of information across vast distances and disparate computer systems. This is only useful to the extent that it connects people. This is probably the most appropriate use of the internet. It is usually overshadowed by more glitzy applications with graphics, sound and video.
The internet at it heart is just a stream of text travelling down a wire. While that type of information can be rather limiting, it covers a vast array of the most common types of communications. It is in effect a format of a letter with the immediacy of the telephone. A fax is the closest comparison but a fax can carry pictures and signatures. This makes a fax a more robust medium than the internet.
The internet does have some unique features. The speed of transmission, or perceived immediacy, cause people who use the internet to type like they talk rather than type like they write. The implications for the English language should be of concern to all. If dashing off a fax replaced composing a letter, then what will slapping together a email do? This runs against the normal conclusion that more written work should improve language. You have to question the direction and quality of language under such circumstances.
The overall advantage is the spread of ideas, information, and thoughts between people that would not otherwise correspond. The result is a free flow of ideas with little moderation or control. The problem is that all ideas are presented as roughly equal merit until the writer themselves prove otherwise. This is a valuable and necessary condition for a mass medium that all people should be able to access. The problems with this are already starting to arise. In the frontier world of the internet the bandits are as rampant as they ever were in the old west. As an educator that would like to see students have access to the internet this is of great concern to me.
The other result is volume. The shear number of messages flashing across the internet is incomprehensible. This is interesting because the volume and tone of many discussions make it possible for political and social movements to be born and developed outside the view of a large portion of the population. Those without access to the internet could be excluded from important cultural discussions.
This should be a concern to all of us. While the solutions are complicated and sometimes nebulous, a concerted effort must be made to find them. Ideal like Freenets and publicly sponsored internet access, through libraries and schools, are a large step toward this goal.
The ability of the internet to connect people is powerful and pervasive but it is not universal.
Bill Kempthorne (billk@wimsey.com) is a Math/Physics teacher at Mountain Secondary in Langley, B.C. He has a soon to be published thesis on Computers in the Grade Eight to Ten classroom and a semi-regular contributor to user group newsletters and similar publications. Electronic rebutals are accepted in the manner offered at the above address.
The view expressed here should be treated as the sole opinion of the writer except were specific quotations or references are cited. Permission to reproduce for individual educational use is granted, all other rights reserved WAK&CO ©1995

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