Internet: An open door to the world's wonders


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- He flicked on the computer and typed a few words. In seconds, he winged into cyberspace, transported along a telephone line to the far reaches of the world.

He typed a command and jumped to the University of Colorado, combing its main computer for information.

Then he typed another command, zipped to NASA headquarters and rummaged for a picture from space; another, and he began typing a note to an acquaintance in New Zealand.

Interrupted by a "beep" from his computer, he made two more keystrokes and began reading a letter from his sister in Massachusetts.

Welcome to my new life.

My world-walking, interactive, computer-connected life.

Since Christmas, using a $450 computer and a $50 modem (which lets me hook up to other computers through my telephone), I have joined the future.

I have joined the Internet.

The Internet links computers, information and people throughout the world -- all with a local telephone call. I swap opinions, learn things, get a computer math program for my kids and chat with my sister -- all from my home in Charlotte.

It's not cheap: I pay $30 per month for round-the-clock access to a bigger computer that connects me to the Internet. For that:

* I feel closer to my brothers, sisters and nephews, who also have Internet "accounts."

* I am making friends in New Zealand, St. Louis and Zimbabwe.

* My kids are finding pen pals and material for school reports.

* I am having a ton of fun, learning about and discussing a wide range of topics with people throughout the world.

Is this just a middle-class toy? In a way, yes.

It is fun to zip around the globe chasing information. It is exciting to receive "mail" from a 7-year-old in Taiwan wanting to know about my son's life. I don't necessarily need access to electronic card catalogs of libraries in France, though it practically makes me giddy to think about it.

Along with the Boston Red Sox's spring training schedule or the lunch menu at Harvard University, I have access to medical, legal and even automotive advice -- 24 hours a day.

I got started by using computer bulletin boards, electronic versions of, well, bulletin boards. You can post messages to each other, play games, read and save articles.

They are a great way to learn about electronic communications -- your modem (which allows your computer to "talk" to other computers through your telephone) and your communications program. You can leave a letter to the editor on The Observer's board. You can even shop on some.

The computer also is a great equalizer. I don't know what the people I'm "talking" to look like -- are they black or white, do they have disabilities? We're talking mind to mind, idea to idea. Prejudices evaporate for lack of reference.

Be careful, though. Telecomputing can be addicting. Don't get so connected you forget your family or your job.

I have met dozens of people along this electronic highway. And there are millions more: people who watch such things say use of the Internet is growing 5 percent per week.

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