“Beam me up, Scottie.” This popular line from Star Trek was a demonstration of the advanced technology of the future. Though it was a fictional story, Star Trek became the universal vision of the future. As always reality tends to mimic fiction. Though our society has not quite resulted to living in space, we have made life easier with technology. Economic survival has become more dependent upon information and communications bringing forth new technology of which was never thought possible. Just a mere thirty years ago a computer occupied a whole room compared todays palm sized computers, which are faster and perform more functions. Cellular phones, now light and compact, were bulky just ten years ago. The most incredible invention, the Internet, is bringing infinite amount of information to your desktop. In the world of the of the Internet there exist a world blind to skin color and other physical appearances. The Internet while still young in age has grown rapidly, spreading to countries world wide and connecting 50 million users. With its popularity, it is incumbent upon our society to recognize how the Internet works and to be aware of its advantages as well as disadvantages.
While seemingly high tech the Internet concept is rather simple. Computers speak to one another and send information. This is accomplished by sending and receiving electronic impulse, and then decoding them into a message. In order to communicate with one another they are linked up in a network. They are then able to access information from thousands of other computers. The network acts like one large computer storing information in various places, rather than in one physical structure. Users tap into the Internet to access or provide information. Internet technology allows one to surf the World Wide Web or send e-mail. The vision of the Internet that would revolutionize the computer and communications belonged to JCR Licklider of MIT (Leiner n. page). In August of 1962 he envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers which would allow everyone to quickly access data and programs (Leiner n. page). A government sponsored project at Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started in October (Leiner n. page). The race for discovery of such technology raged between the Soviet Union and The United States of America. Both countries wanted control of the possibly powerful tool. Then in 1968, The National Physical Laboratory in Great Britain set up the first test network, which prompted the Pentagons ARPA to fund a larger project in the USA. (Sterling n. page)
However the race was not limited to just nations but also companies. In 1965, working with Thomas Merrill, Lawrence G. Roberts created the first wide-area computer ever built. These experiments proved that computers could work together running programs and retrieving data as necessary on remote machines. Roberts put together his plan for ARPANET, published in 1966. At that time he learned of Donald Davies and Roger Scantlebury of NPL and Paul Baron and others at RAND. Research at MIT (1961-1967), RAND (1962-1965) and NPL (1964-1967) while parallel had no knowledge of one another. In August of 1968 an RFQ, a refined model of ARPANET was released for the development of one of the key components, the packet switches Interface Message Processors (IMP). Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) installed the first IMP at UCLA and the first host computer was connected. By the end of 1969 four host computers were connected together into the initial ARPANET and the Internet was off the ground. In 1977, electronic mail was introduced. (Leiner n. page)
As the Internet quickly grew, changes were necessary. The Internets decentralized structure made it easy to expand but its NCP did not have the ability to address networks further down stream than the destination IMP. Bob Kahn decided to develop a new version of the protocol which eventually became known as the Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). Compared to the NCP which acted as a device driver, the new protocol was more like a communication protocol. In order to make it easier to use, Host were then assigned names, replacing numbers. A group of scientist then set out to show that a compact and simple implementation of TCP was possible. They succeeded, allowing it to run on desktop computers. (Leiner n. page).
Original uses of the Internet included government communications and a forum for scientist to share ideas and help one another in research. In the 1980s the Internet grew beyond its primarily research roots to include a broad user community and increased commercial activity. In present day it has become a tool for conducting research and finding information, as well as communications with others. Electronic mail, amazingly popular, with chat rooms and discussion groups makes the Internet a popular place for meeting new people. (Leiner n. page).
Perhaps the largest shift is in the profile of Internet users. In the beginning users were scientist and government officials: those highly educated and well trained. However todays 50 million users are all ages and from all backgrounds (Why use the Internet? n. page). Access to the Internet is no longer limited and can be found just about everywhere including schools, colleges, libraries, and at home. In 1992 the Internet had a growth of twenty percent every month (Why use the Internet? n.page). A developer of the Internet said, “If the Internet stumbles, it will not be because we lack for technology, vision, or motivation. It will be because we cannot set a direction and march collectively into the future.” ( Leiner n. page)
Clearly the Internet has brought many conveniences. Businesses and students benefit from the technology as well as those who use the Internet for personal uses. Over 50 million people used the Internet in 1995 and by the year 2000 the number is predicted to be over 150 million (Why your company should be on the Internet n. page). Fortune Magazine said, “The Internet is the biggest and earliest manifestation of the way business is going to be conducted from now on.” Companies are embracing the Internet and those who do not will be left behind (Why use the Internet? n. page). The Internet opens a wider audience to companies providing customers valuable information via mailing lists. Space on the Internet is inexpensive compared to paper, radio and television advertisements, therefore companies reach a broader community with little cost (Why use the Internet? n. page). Most web users are well educated Americans with professional or technical jobs with median annual salary of $69,000, making them a prime target group. Opening a storefront online gives the advantage of always being open. The Internet is a fair playing field for large and small companies alike. Computer networks track inventory and consumer demand resulting in increased profits (Why Minnesota Students Need Access to the Internet n. page). Remote video conferencing and Internet phones allow companies to conduct live chat sessions with clients around the world. Data bases are available for public or private uses. Companies can transfer files, bulletins or e-mail via the Internet, and it is all very affordable.(Why use the Web? n.page)
Students as well as commerce is benefiting from the Internet. Students need more information than is offered by school libraries. The Internet gives students access to resources from around the world. They are also more willing to sit and browse the Internet then to use the library. Information can be found, selected and retrieved faster on the Internet. Entire books can be transferred in minutes (Sterling n.page). Students find the Internet to be a viable educational tool which makes them aware of the globalism of the world rather than sheltered in the realm of the classroom. They have the option of writing to pen pals in other countries and getting to know other cultures. (MRP-Discussion n. page)
The Internet also serves as a preparation tool for the future. The world is moving towards electronics: in todays market being competitive means knowing how to get information, and more and more, it is traveling by wires. The Internet allows children to get hands on experience, and helps them develop intellectual skills and problem solving. It allows children to research information that interest them. For example, a child interested in baseball can find information on the latest statistics and read about the history of the sport. By educating themselves it opens their minds to technology. ( Why Minnesota Students need access to the Internet n.page)
The Internet is a popular place to socialize. Exchanging information with those far away take only seconds using the Internet. While postal mail can take days, electronic mail, or e-mail, takes seconds. Many companies offer e-mail services for free to those with access to computer with a modem. Unlike phone system and postal system there are no charges for long distance service or communication with foreign countries. E-mail and instant messages (found in programs such as America Online and ICQ) can be used to send images and software. (Sterling n. page)
Internet technology has gone as far as to allow people to make new friends without any physical contact. One way to meet new people is to join an Internet discussion group. In such a group people with a common interest ask and receive advice and exchange information. Another opportunity to meet new people is in Internet chat rooms. In such rooms one can speak freely to anyone as if they were at a party. America Online users refer to relations charter though the sever as “AOL luv”. Those in discussion groups and chat rooms are not limited to just Americans but open to people all around the world. The Internet is a world wide tool filled with many cultures, and different people.
In this world, race is not a factor since there is no physical contact. Everyone is equal and has the freedom to express oneself. It is an institution that resists institutionalization. It belongs to everyone and yet no one, everyone sort of pitches in and it evolves on its own. There are no censors, bosses, board of directors or stockholders. The Internet is unregulated and uncensored.
However, the Internet being so free and uncensored presents many problems. Acknowledgment of children using the Internet has fueled a fight for regulation. Parents can not always monitor their children, therefore the Internet needs to be a safe place for the children. Children have access to the Internet in schools, libraries, and just about everywhere. In schools it is nearly impossible for a teacher to watch all the children, and in libraries it is not the librarians job to monitor them. Computers and the Internet are for everyone, including children, thus it has become an immense problem.
Access to pornography has been one of the greatest concerns among parents. Surprisingly, pornography is easy to access and children will. Children are naturally curious and love to explore. Minors are also targeted by advertisers. Just like on television advertisers try to lure children in with pictures and web sites which include games and chat rooms. However the biggest danger is not what they find on the Internet but who they find. The information they access is not as dangerous as the people they meet. There have been many cases of molesters and kidnappers searching for pray on-line. Nicknames are used to protect the identity of the children but can also be used to mask adults. They enter childrens chat rooms and coax the children to trust them. Nonetheless, denying the children access to the Internet is not the solution, perhaps software is. However software limiting childrens access to web pages have not been successful. In some case the software does not filter out all inappropriate pages but filters out non-objectionable pages. (Should children be kept off-line? n.page)
Molesters and kidnappers are not the only people with access to the Internet we should fear. Those mischievous thinkers also pose a threat. Known as hackers or crackers, they search for vulnerable computer systems then strike. Businesses can lose trade secrets, and the damages can be a disaster. In 1996 Dan Framer, a security consultant, tested 2,000 computers networks, and of those 65% had security holes large enough for an intruder to enter (Freedman 280).
Government computers are just a vulnerable as teenagers have recently demonstrated. Teenagers working out of their home with guidance from a 18 year old broke into government classified information. Though they were caught, it bought alarm to the possible dangers of information leaks. The United States enemies could have access to military codes and top secret files.
Although the average person is not targeted by hackers they are in danger of fraud and con-artists. Stolen credit card numbers have been rumored to be a major problem. The chances of it happening are not as great as the media makes it to be, but nevertheless it is a problem. The criminals easily get away with such a crime. They get the number of a credit card and charge ridiculous bills, but by the time the bill comes they have moved on to the next victim. Many schemes come in the form of junk mail. They offer deals that sound too good to be true and chances are they fake. They only ask for a small sum of money up front, next they cash the check and move on. ( Anarchy Online 98)
Secure passwords can prevent hackers from accessing computers. Passwords should consist of numbers, letters and symbols: an example “P11++69.” No matter how secure and high tech the computer security system, all it takes is a simple , stupid password like “hello” to render the whole system worthless. (Freedman 279)
Though the Internet has its advantages it also has disadvantages, therefore users should educate oneself on the revolutionary tool. With over 50 million users the Internet is rapidly growing and is to the 90s what the personal computer was to the 70s. New usages are springing up everyday, making it impossible to predict the future of the Internet. One thing certain is that the Internet has revolutionized the computer and communications. “The Internet is a world wide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for collaboration and interaction between individuals without regard to geographic location.” (Leiner n.page)