The Internet - Getting on and moving about
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #25

As if on another planet, living in the cyberspace is accomplished in many ways. Getting on is what's important, and you can choose between occasional excursions and full citizenship. It all depends on what you really expect from the Internet Experience.

You may only want to replace your fax correspondence with electronic mail; that's fine, though a bit like flying a Concorde to visit your neighbour. You may want a huge source of human and information resources, with which you can interact and work. You might perhaps want to live on the Net, breathing bits and bandwidth. You can do it all, and more.

The Internet is a network of people, communicating through computers. So your first need is a computer that communicates, using what is called a modem. Then you have to find an Internet provider, who will give you your ticket to cyberspace.

This is not always easy, wherever in the world you are. Though the number and quality of commercial providers is increasing, the best entry to the Net is still to be in a good university or institute with a great connection. Alternatively, you can use some of the non-Internet commercial services such as Compuserve and America Online, which are generally more welcoming towards newcomers and are slowly becoming part of the Net.

Once you have an account with an Internet provider, you have to figure out what mode of transport you're going to use to cyberspace. One is 'dial-up' - you make a phone call every time you want to visit cyberspace. Naturally, this 'dial-up' connectivity is the least preferable, unless your needs are very limited. Another way is to make the phone call, but using special programs such as SLIP, become a proper, if temporary citizen with access to all services. The third, most expensive way to connect is to get a leased line - a permanent link to the Net, making you wired 24 hours a day. This would be ideal for large volume communications and is what most large organizations use, and is the only way to get 'full connectivity'.

Once you're on-line, you quickly discover that you're lost in a vast space without a map. Most novices start out with e-mail and on-line (e-talk, if you will) discussions with their friends who got there first. Then go on to browse through one of several 'newsgroups' on various interesting subjects. Then make the mistake of offending gurus by asking silly questions, and eventually graduating to using other Internet information services.

The lack of central organization does mean that directories of addresses and sources of information are rare, usually hidden away in corners that you would need some expertise to find in the first place, and unwieldy to search. Most people get along just following up on the nuggets that drop from the old hands every so often. Taking advantage of this situation, a number of books have appeared, claiming to contain authoritative guides to the best places in cyberspace. Some of them are actually useful.

While the current difficulty of getting on to the Net means that adventurers require some courage and willingness to go through an initiation ritual of sorts, it is apparent that this difficulty is on the decline. As the nearly two million immigrants to cyberspace every month will attest, the proliferation of more customer- oriented providers and newer, friendlier interfaces is bringing us ever closer to the day when the population of cyberspace will equal that of the earth.

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