General

The Internet

I use dictionaries fairly often and I keep a few in the office and more at home. My most used one is Paul Procter’s Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 1979 edition, which has been with me since 1981. I intended to write about email and the Internet, and out of curiosity, I looked up my favourite Longman. There was no such word. I thought maybe this version was too old, and I began leafing others. To my surprise, there was no entry in the 1985 Webster’s, the 1985 Concise English, the 1987 Longman Family, or even the 1993 New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary which bills itself as the New Authority on the English Language.

Finally, I looked up Webster’s Millennium Encyclopedia, the 2001 CD-ROM version. Lo and behold, I found not only a definition for Internet, but also extensive reference on services available on the Internet, including electronic mail, newsgroup, file transfer protocol, bulletin board systems, telnet, search engines, world wide web and other related information. Let me share some of what I found with you.

To begin with, the Internet is an international computer network linking computers or networks of computers from educational institutions, government agencies, industries and businesses with common standards which enable messages to be sent from any host on one network to any host on any other. That is a rather clumsy and wordy, but comprehensive definition. More importantly, the Internet began in the 1970s as an experimental network to support military research, which grew steadily to include federal, regional, campus and other users.

Electronic mail or e-mail is perhaps the most popular service available on the Internet. One source estimated that there were over 60 billion messages going round the world each year and growing. The e-mail has not only grown in popularity, but has also become a more acceptable and respectable form of communication, so much so that users have developed netiquette, digital decorum, rules and do’s and don’ts. Rotary International used Rotary in Cyberspace for its June issue of The Rotarian and a special keyboard for its cover. Quite a few weeklies and monthlies had also done something similar. The general conclusion is that the e-mail is here to stay, whether you like it or not. On the one hand, the Internet is hailed as the greatest of inventions, the catalyst of changes in business practices, the most powerful knowledge tool and so on, but on the other hand, it is blamed for corrupting the minds of the youths through spreading pornography, for misinformation, for wasting people’s time through chain letters and for changing relationship for the worse.

Interestingly enough, the Internet has become a topic of serious academic analysis in Oxford. This staunch bastion of tradition with its dreamy spires has decided to make sense of the social and economic upheaval brought about by the phenomenal development of the Internet in the last decade and has established earlier this year the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). The new OII received an initial funding of 15 million British Pounds and is now based in Balliol. It is the first multidisciplinary academic institute in the world set up specifically to study the impact of the Internet on society, law and the economy. An Oxford don has observed that Oxford has a reputation for independence and integrity as well as for involvement in public life, while another, noting that the Internet does not respect boundaries, argued that Oxford is well placed to embark on a cross-disciplinary study by virtue of the fact that the colleges are multi-disciplinary. Already, the study has found that contrary to myth, children are not intrinsically better than adults at using information technology. One view is that whereas we cannot undiscover the Internet, for it is not going to go away, there is hope that the Internet can be influenced by society.

It is the notion that we have to live with the Internet and the host of services it provides that has spurred me to learn as much as I can on how to use the Internet more effectively. I have quite a few friends of my age who insist that they would not take to love or like e-mail because they cannot stand the notion of sitting in front of a cathode ray tube and a keyboard engaging in some seemingly passive and impersonal form of communication. The strength of argument and the conviction behind, the emotion accompanying and the velocity with which the argument is delivered can be rather impressive, but I am afraid that even the die-hards among them are resigned to the fact that this form of communication will stay and nearly all of them acknowledge that they would have to live with it. Well, life is never perfect. Indeed it is the imperfections that would help punctuate life and make us realize what life offers. Besides, if one lives with a monster long enough and survive, one would learn to love the monster. Let it be with the Internet and its e-mails.

Talk to you again next week.

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