Surf's Up: Internet New Zealand Style
Copyright © 1966 Katherine Phelps and Chris Lipscombe. This extract is reproduced in electronic form with permission of the publisher. Opinions quoted are not necessarily held by the authors in exactly the same form as at time of writing, and some recent developments (for example, the introduction of Java and the growing popularity of Microsoft Internet Explorer) are not covered, but you get the general picture.
The Internet is like eating potato chips. You may think you will only be eating one or two chips, but before long you have eaten the whole bag and want more. The Internet is addictive. I warn you now. All those fat colourless books about it are just to hide the fact that anyone can enjoy the information highway, not just computer nerds. You can heave a sigh of relief if you thought it was going to be hard. And more than being easy to use, it's FUN! So what's fun got to do with being useful? Just about everything. If the means by which you receive your information is fun, it's memorable. If it's memorable, you will more readily be able to apply it to various tasks at hand. This little tome is meant to take a similar approach to the Internet itself.
So the question of the moment is, just what in heaven's name is the Internet? Well, it isn't zillions of movies on demand (yet). This seems to be the most popular perception of what the information highway is going to be about. Nor is it interactive television (hah!) where you can press one or two buttons during a gameshow and maybe win a gift voucher. Nor is it simply a home shopping network. The Internet is a worldwide network of computers linked together in order to exchange all sorts of information confined only by the limits of present technology. You can read books, magazines, newspapers, scholarly papers, and more on the Internet. You can view pictures, paintings and (short) movies. You can listen to speeches, radio broadcasts and music. You can purchase software, flowers and airline tickets. You can make friends, share thoughts, play games, participate in debates and publish your own works. Totally up-to-the-minute information concerning the weather, news, share prices, movie releases or software bug fixes is right at your fingertips. And once you are on the Internet, you are everywhere throughout the world all at once. It is no more difficult or time-consuming to peruse the paintings of the WebMuseum (formerly Le WebLouvre) in Paris, France than it is to explore online the offerings of the Museum of New Zealand.
In only a few years the Internet will become a part of people's lives in the same way that TV is now. It's part of what is known as the media 'convergence'. Do you remember the Cat in the Hat's moss-covered, three-handled, family gredunza? It was supposed to be a magical machine that would do almost anything you could imagine. You will be able to purchase something similar to a gredunza in the future. With a single all-purpose machine (IBM's original name for the computer) you will be able to photocopy, fax, make phone calls, take answering machine messages, send letters, watch TV, listen to music, skim the newspaper, read books, monitor your household electricity, water and gas consumption, and have many more such services readily available.
No longer will you have to put up with lots of space-consuming information devices. A single computing system hooked up to the Internet will take care of all that, and can be as invisible as the electrical wires in your walls. It is very likely that your telephone outlets will become maximedia ports which can be made available in every room of the house. I am sure the originators of the Internet had no idea to what extent their creation was going to be used.
And the truth of the matter is that most of these services can be made available on your computer today. It's just that it is taking a while for the media industries and the public to catch on to the possibilities. The billionaires of tomorrow will be those who can effectively market these possibilities by providing easy to use interfaces and convincing people to buy them. Already anyone can start their own online publishing house on a shoestring budget. All you need is a fulltime connection to the Internet, some works, a place to store them that people can access, and some knowledge of the software applications you need to present your material on the site.
For music and videos you might need slightly fancier equipment, but it's getting to the point where it's affordable for individuals, not just companies.
Much of the Internet's potential for live interaction will only be released when more information can be sent between users more quickly. Available bandwidth in New Zealand is on the point of dramatic expansion -- and the greater the bandwidth, the more information that can be transferred. The first major jump will be from POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) to ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network). With 98% of public switches in New Zealand already converted to digital, Telecom New Zealand can deliver ISDN to most businesses and all urban residential addresses right now. The issue is not one of access so much as cost -- only when line installation and rental costs fall to affordable levels will the technology move beyond the advertising, graphics and pre-press industries. With ISDN, some material on videotape, a video capture board and enough fast hard disk capacity, you can set up your own cable TV station. Using other technologies such as ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode, not the hole-in-the-wall cash dispenser), bandwidth will expand again. The ability to send, receive and manipulate 3-D images over the Net becomes much easier, and so does the possibility of entering (and interacting in) virtual worlds.
Once you have made your creative contribution to the Internet, literally millions of people from all over the world are at your doorstep. By making effective use of the media and being genuinely fun and informative, thousands of these people are going to be figuratively ringing your doorbell.