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From the 11/28/94 issue of USN&WR

The sticky threads of the Internet

An explorer's tale


At summer camp, I got only as far as "advanced beginner" in swimming, but recently I've taken up surfing. On the Internet, that is.

For months, I could empathize with the last dinosaurs on Earth. Colleagues would bandy about words like news group and Gopher, and I'd nod knowingly, clueless as to what they were discussing. Without a home computer, I couldn't even find the information superhighway's on ramp.

That changed about a month ago when I bought an Apple Powerbook. I couldn't wait to get my internal modem installed and race onto the superhighway I'd heard so much about. My Internet password would propel me into a world of unimaginable info-richness. I'd be able to discuss the latest research with scientists around the world, convey my thoughts on the Mideast to the president and save hundreds of dollars in phone calls by E-mailing my friend Ellen in Singapore.

hasn't quite worked out that way. True, I've been able to read conversations by a news group-an electronic community of people with like interests-of women scientists, and I've stumbled upon Bill Clinton's speeches. Ellen doesn't have an E-mail address yet, but I've been able to chat electronically with my friend Christi in New Haven, Conn., which should save me tens of dollars in long-distance calls.

To be honest, I haven't quite figured out how to talk with the scientists or access the White House. "Stumble" is the operative word here. I turned to How to Use the Internet by Mark Butler because it's clear-and short. Step by step, each chapter shows how to take advantage of Internet offerings.

Cruise control. But I've found that the best way to get to know the Internet is by cruising it. When I log on and start clicking, I feel as if I'm embarking on an electronic scavenger hunt. Each clue-or selection from a menu of resources-leads to another, and I'm never quite sure where I'll end up. Early on, I learned the importance of logging the steps that led me to particularly useful information. I'm still just finding my way around, but already I've discovered organizations and bibliographies that deal with topics in which I'm interested personally and professionally. I've signed up for mailing lists that promise to supply me-electronically, of course-with the latest news on those subjects.

Everything you've heard about what can be found on the Internet is true. There are rumors-clearly marked as such-about celebrities, like the one that has O.J. Simpson's attorneys advising him to soften his image by plugging Tupperware. You can use Gopher-the feature that displays menus-to check out "FAQs" (frequently asked questions) on ferrets. The Net is ecumenical, too. You can find FAQs on the Bahai faith, the text of the King James version of the Bible and, on the Lubavitch Gopher, weekly essays on Torah readings. But you don't need divine guidance to find your way around-just patience.

©Copyright 1994, U.S.News & World Report

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