Imagine you are working on an assignment concerning a rather obscure topic (eg, the ways in which llama breeding can increase your sex drive), and strangely enough, you can't find a single book in the library on this fascinating topic. You don't have the patience to wade through piles of microfiche, you want the information to come to you. You flick the computer on, and ask everyone out there if they can help. Within seconds your request is sent all over the world, and within hours, perhaps minutes, you have information coming at you from people who know.
This is not wishful thinking. The technology exists now, and is available to CSU Mitchell students.
In the 90s, the tool known as the computer is pushing the everyperson into a new world.
The world of cyberspace.
Cyberspace commonly refers to the world of information that can be accessed through computer networks. This world is immense.
In 1969 the US Defence Department set up Internet, a computer network designed to help fight the Cold War. Internet now links more than 8000 computer networks and is used by up to 10 million people on a regular basis to access and exchange information. Users can send electronic mail to users all over the world, read electronic magazines, ask other people for certain information (such as the sexual influences of llama breeding), or just have a chat.
In Australia, all universities are connected by AARNET (another computer network), which is in turn linked to that old giant, Internet. Through Internet, Mitchell students have access to an unintelligible mass of global information and any one of the 10 million fellow users. Surely someone out there has some relevant info (and even first hand experience) on llama breeding!
The home of the future probably won't have a mail box for receiving letters. Instead, they will have a computer, linked to a Internet style network. Every computer will have its electronic address, a virtual letter box to which people could send "mail" to be stored. Once a day you could hook up to the network and check out your mail box, and transfer selected pieces of mail to your own computer for further examination. Instead of receiving a bank statement on paper, you could ask for one via your computer. As the digital technology of CD's is with us now, in the future you could have an entire album transferred through the network to your home. You could even transfer the album cover and print it out on your own printer.
Fax machines, although a relatively new technology, could disappear again. Where is the sense in sending a copy of a piece of paper down the phone line, just to make another paper copy? Why not transfer it straight from computer to computer? It's quicker, saves paper and the receiver can do what they like with the information.
This idea lies behind e-mail (electronic mail). Many Mitchell students have already discovered e-mail on the PC system in the Computer Centre. Using e-mail, messages can be written on a computer and sent to another computer in a matter of minutes. This other computer may be in the computer centre, in Sydney or Melbourne, or even in the US or UK!
e-mail technology offers limitless opportunities. The Telnetting system, for example, allows users to interact simultaneously in a group scenario. Some groups are technical (eg. groups of computer programmers who write programs together and help each other when required) whilst others are purely recreational. One such recreational group is known as Foothills. A user playing Foothills logs onto the group by entering a simple command and a password, and is then free to converse with other users/players.
Watching someone else talking on Foothills can be a bewildering experience. Very few (if any) players use their own name, preferring nicknames like Jester, Waxhead and Peaches. When one player leaves (eg, John), all other players receive the message "John jumps in the air and disappears with a loud *POP*!" The group has a number of simple rules: no offensive swearing or behaviour, keep conversations reasonably clean and be nice to new users (dubbed "newbies"). It is very easy to accidentally insult someone via computer, without the benefits of tone of voice. To indicate humour, a sideways smiley face is typed thus: :-).
The type of technology that allows cyberspace to exist will undoubtedly come to the fore.
In the last ten years the personal computer has gone from being an expensive toy to being an affordable and useful device that everyone has used at sometime. Where would Interp be without the computer ! The biggest problem with the computer has been that it is not simple enough to use. The computing industry has begun to address this in recent years, and when the technology of computer communications undergoes this same change, global communications will be revolutionised. Considering how far the computer has come in the last ten years, the next ten years could see some or all of the above uses becoming inherent in our everyday activities.
Information used from the article Bulletin Boards: News from Cyberspace, by Jon Katz, as published in Rolling Stone magazine, issue 484 (June 1993).
© David Gilliver 1993
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