The year 2000 marks the 150th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Bab.
These next 5 years will bring remarkable changes in technology, and many of those new
opportunities opening up are already available to us. This presentation aims to inspire
those present, providing them with ideas and examples, and encouraging them to go out and
investigate things for themselves.
The Internet was born in 1967 (150 years after the birth of
Bahá'u'llah) when several government funded computer networks in the U.S. were linked together.
Developments during the late 1980s in the methodology and protocols for transferring
information led to the Internet we have today. The Internet is a collection of computer
networks operating in a similar fashion to the telephone system. Computers act like
telephone exchanges, contacting other exchanges around the world and exchanging
information, just like making a telephone call. There are nominated sites on computers
around the world from which information can be obtained. These interlinked computers form
a global web, which also enables mail to be sent electronically throughout the world. The
current Internet is much more advanced than the first computer networks. It now enables
voice, pictures, text, video and even software to be transmitted.
There are two main ways the Internet can be accessed:
- By using a computer within a network which is already an integral part of the Internet.
- By using a service provider, and connecting to their computer (which is part of the Internet).
Note: A service provider operates in a manner similar to Telecom,
charging users for calls made to their computers. The service provider's computer acts as
a go-between, sending information between the Internet and the user's computer.
What are some things we could use the Internet for?
- Raising funds
We can use the Internet for communication between individuals, between
individuals and institutions, between institutions, between committees and committee
members, for communications about news and events and for publishing bulletins and
Individuals both locally and overseas can communicate, work on
projects, discuss issues, provide personal support, provide professional advice and
assistance, provide Internet access to local community groups and schools, and can strike
up friendships with suitable single people. One of the audience members has recently
become engaged to a Bahá'í lady he met over the Internet.
Institutions can carry out administrative tasks, publish important
messages, publish information about pilgrimage and publish maps of their local areas (such
as how to get to places of interest). In Hawaii, new believers can be enrolled
Individuals can reach institutions on a timely basis, send letters and
reports and can even check their place in the pilgrimage queue.
News and events can be easily communicated via the Internet. An
international bulletin board is operated over which internationally relevant messages can
be set to and read by the international community. A separate national system has begun in
Australia and others already operate in countries such as the United Kingdom.
Bulletins and journals can also be sent electronically. The
International Bahá'í News Service is available free of charge. The Tasmanian publication
called 'The Beacon' is available. Specialist journals and mailing lists are also
maintained around the world, targeting particular themes and groups of people.
2. Education (Distance learning and training)
The Internet can be used to share resources such as education
materials, lesson plans and correspondence teachers. It can be used to advertise and
locate particular needs and resources. It enables multi-faith and multi-racial interaction
between teachers and students around the world. A group called I*EARN operate a network of
around 1,000 schools spread over 27 countries which interact electronically, with the
children writing about selected topics. The Internet also enables traditional education to
be carried out en masse, providing access to multimedia computer programs and access to
educational materials including maps, photographs, facts and figures. A single lesson or
training program can be delivered to thousands of people at the touch of a button. This
can even be used to assist with the professional development and maturation of Local
The Internet enables users to reach people of different races,
cultures, religions, economic conditions and social positions. It allows users to access
specific groups through bulletin boards, mailing lists and specific Internet sites.
Indigenous peoples, government and the media all have their own areas of the Internet.
There are numerous discussion groups, where issues can be discussed with other Bahá'ís,
where issues can be discussed with people of other religions and where issues can be
discussed by people participating and being known as Bahá'ís. People of prominence and
capacity can be reached. Bahá'ís can provide input to local and overseas journals of all
fields, disseminating material into the wider community. Most Bahá'ís with access to
electronic mail sign their name and close their message with a Bahá'í quote.
There is a need for care, especially in the way the faith is taught and
represented to people of capacity. Friendship should be the primary objective when getting
to know people met on the Internet, as purity of motive can often open doors normally
closed to us.
The Internet can simplify reaching and networking into the wider local
community. Many local councils, libraries and regional institutions are now maintaining
their own Internet sites. Some sites provide information about council permits, local
trades, and job opportunities. The site of my own local council provides access to a
community directory, supplying suitable contact details for even the local Bahá'í
community. Overseas, some Local Spiritual Assemblies already maintain their own Internet
presence, supplying materials as well as contact details and news of upcoming events.
At the national and international level, electronic mailing lists
enable individuals to send messages directly to the Institution or contact desired, for
information or assistance. Before visiting a location, a message can be sent to a bulletin
board asking for individuals in an area to respond, enabling one to locate suitable
contacts. Individual areas and goal towns can set up their own Internet sites, providing
information about accommodation, government assistance and regulations, important things
like shopping, and even advertising job vacancies.
With virtual reality becoming increasingly realistic and affordable, it
will soon be possible to visit a region, checking out suitable locations from the comfort
of your chair.
The Internet can be used to discuss issues and teachings, access the
original writings from the World Centre, contact authors of publications, form study
groups, collect together compilations and to access and prepare conference presentations.
Products can easily be advertised on the Internet, via special sites,
electronic mail and bulletin boards. The need for funds for special projects can also be
advertised, often drawing responses from as far away as Australia.
Some Other Possibilities
- Disaster and crisis management. The Internet can be used to
obtain information about people and events, to obtain needed help and advice, and to
re-establish contact with individuals and institutions.
- Calling for prayers for individuals, projects and institutions
- Staying in touch with current issues, news and events. Some
sites maintained by commercial newspapers even enable you to search for and obtain
articles about a given topic, collecting them together in chronological order.
- Reaching people who are visually impaired. Using modern
technology, written works are translated into Braille and published by the Institute for
the Blind, not far from the conference venue. These materials can be sent and received
electronically. Several of the visually impaired staff are prominent on the Internet and
are receptive to the faith.
- Checking with the weather bureau before outdoor functions.
- Accessing the local government network 'Councilnet' for news
- Participating in world events.
The Way Forward (or at least my predictions!)
- Within a short time, electronic trade will be more feasible,
with financial transactions able to be carried out securely. The first bank recently
joined the Internet.
- Improved Internet security will lead to increased protection
for the transfer of documents and software, leading to more secure publication of
- The Internet will be able to be accessed more easily.
Infrastructure such as optic fibre cabling will become more common. Local libraries will
provide Internet access to their patrons, and eventually to their less advantaged
community members. Fixed locations for access will become less necessary with increased
use of mobile communications and portable computers.
- Voice technologies will improve, reducing the need for
keyboards, and making the Internet more accessible to the physically handicapped.
- Video conferencing via the PC will become more commonplace,
enabling people to work from home and to conduct meetings more easily, making more
effective use of their time.
- Conferences will be held which use the Internet to conduct
- Virtual reality will enable users to access Internet sites in
3D, like walking down a corridor and opening doors to the rooms desired.
- Improvements will occur in global health, due to Internet
communications. An example is a group known as the Global Health Network which has
significant Bahá'í involvement. The aim of the group is to bring about dramatic
improvements in world health by providing low cost access to information about disease,
its monitoring and its prevention world wide.
- The Internet provides the ability to reach large numbers of
people. This is an opportunity, and a concern. Any mistakes made are going to be
potentially very big and very visible.
- People who join the Internet community could cause problems,
because they don't know what they are doing.
- People can cause problems for the faith using the Internet.
The Internet is still not a secure place. Internet sites need to be protected and people
transmitting messages need to be made aware that others may be reading them.
- Lack of technical knowledge and support.
- Lack of official guidance and guidelines.
In closing, I've tried to illustrate some of the opportunities that are already
available to us right now. Don't just take my word for it, go out there and investigate
things for yourselves.