The Information Superhighway's Past and Future
by Jennifer J. Silvey
Initially, there are two questions that each person has to answer for themselves when dealing with the Information Superhighway. The first, why do you want access to the Information superhighway? The second, how do you get access once you decide you want it? Fortunately, the first answer will help you answer the second question.
There are many reasons to want access to the Information Superhighway, aka the Internet, because the access feels and is world-wide. My cousin regularly chats with a friend in Turkey that he met on the “net”. What can you do on the information superhighway? Well, the answer involves almost everything that includes telecommunications. Telecommunications encompasses virtually anything that can be or is communicated to another person via a gadget (phones, faxes, computer modems, etc...). An individual at home or work can communicate with a number of places and things because the internet is essentially a group of computers loosely linked to exchange information. The computers range from individual personal computers to corporate minicomputers to university mainframes (like USCD and FSU). Once you are connected to a computer via your modem, you can use the other computer almost as if it were your own.
Many of the online services and the internet have educational information, connections with corporations, and interpersonal communication features. The real difference between an online service and the internet deal with the scope. The internet contains all the information that the computer you are talking to allows the public to access; for example, a library database from UCLA or another country. An online service contains the information that it puts there or allows to be put on it. Prodigy, an online service, has been trying to defend a libel suit dealing with information posted in a chat room. The chat room is an interpersonal communication feature that allows a group of people in a fictional room to interact with each other as if they were in a room instead of miles away typing on a keyboard. Other interpersonal communication features include e-mail, which is currently the most widely used feature on the internet or online services. Prodigy’s case is trying to deal with the idea that Prodigy published the information as if Prodigy published a newspaper. This goes directly to the issue of screening information, a topic being discussed by Congress. While the other online services have backed Prodigy, the internet cannot have an opinion because it is not owned as one entity.
While interpersonal communication features are still somewhat limited, information sources and connections with corporations have opened up. The online services are competing with each other by offering more services online and engaging in price wars. Additionally, companies are buying space on online services and setting up “web sites”. The internet’s World Wide Web (WWW) allows an author to help the user to “jump” to related materials. A variety of companies have “web sites” including, but not limited to: ESPN, CNN, and NBC. Information sources coupled with chat rooms have exploded the amount of information that you can retrieve while sitting at a computer. Companies, also, offer services via the internet or an online service. For example, you can purchase a variety of items from travel to groceries. Additionally, you can play games by yourself or against others, some even use fictitious money. Also, you can enter contests or just look for information from a magazine or a TV show.
If the Information Superhighway looks like something you want to do, there are several ways to get there. People who have internet access at work (like CWSL Professors) or at school only need to ask for the way everyone else gets on, which usually involves calling a local phone number with the required modem specifications. Everyone else must look for a way on. The major commercial online service providers are Delphi, CompuServe, America Online, Prodigy, and Genie. Each service has its own price structure and software. Given the current competition the prices are likely to change and the deals may begin to resemble the long distance companies price wars, so checking when you actually decide to start using the service is the best approach. Additionally, other people and companies are setting up access paths which can only be found by looking and gathering information from other computer users, publishing, or computer stores (sometimes the easiest but not necessarily the cheapest). The major commercial providers may be easier to use but an additional benefit is that newer users can often get help from experienced users.
For those that still do not find themselves needing the benefits of the Information Superhighway, experts and marketers are working hard to make sure they get you interested. Online banking and shopping, as well as video communication capabilities, are coming to a service near you. Stay informed, so when the benefits outweigh the cost and privacy problems, you can find a way onto the Information Superhighway to truly benefit from the ability to communicate.