The Internet

Another easy one.

If you don’t yet own a computer with access to the Internet, now would be a very good time to get yourself on-line.

This is a juggernaut that will not stop. And its pace is going to accelerate at a rate unprecedented in history. The popularity of the Internet has spread many times faster than either the telephone or television. There are several reasons for this.

First, it may be the most universally useful tool since the wheel, but it is less expensive. E-mail alone is enough reason to go on-line. It can connect you up with practically everybody in the world for practically nothing.

But it goes well beyond sending electronic mail. I’ll give you a quick example.

I live up in the mountains, about thirty miles (and 5,000 vertical feet) from the closest decent library. This is quite a problem for a writer who needs to do research.

A few months ago I needed to get some detailed information about the breast implant class-action lawsuit, specifically, the observations of a Dr. Marcia Angell on the role science played in the trial. I knew she had written a book on the subject but it wasn’t due to be published for another month.

I logged on to the Internet and used a search program to find any place on the Worldwide Web that contained Dr. Angell’s name. One of the areas I located mentioned that she had given a lecture on just this topic, and I soon discovered that the text of the message had been reprinted by the New England Journal of Medicine. (I also found out that Dr. Angell was the editor of the journal). Switching over to the journal’s site, I found that I could order a copy right through the Internet.

A form appeared on the screen that asked my name and address, and there was also a place to enter my credit card information. I ordered my copy of the lecture transcript and logged off.

The entire process — logging on to the Internet, locating what I needed and completing the order — took exactly seven minutes. And since I pay a flat rate for my Internet service (a whopping $24.95 per month for 75 hours; I’ve never come close to using half of those), there was no additional cost.

Since I discovered the Internet, I wouldn’t do research in a library even if it were located in the next room. Compared to the Worldwide Web, the search capabilities of a library are virtually nonexistent.

I’ve used the Internet/Worldwide Web to get brownie recipes, retrieve papers on physics that wouldn’t see print for another month, check ski conditions as of an hour ago, get the current weather in Cleveland before a trip there, preview software before buying, order obscure books, get my current golf handicap, get detailed technical advice on problems with my computer, buy barbecue from a little Mom and Pop outfit in Texas, set my watch according to the US Navy atomic clock, buy cigars at deep discounts, get movie showtimes for every theater in my area, get the latest news and sports, read newspapers and magazines, send animated greeting cards to friends and family, bitch to the cigar company when my stogies didn’t show up on time, read scripts of Monty Python sketches, get maps of cities I plan to visit, see a painting my niece made for her fourth grade class, take a personality test, get stock quotes, check up on the latest status of Federal Express and UPS shipments, check local road conditions during winter storms, read movie reviews, look up information in encyclopedias, rummage through the Library of Congress, hear what’s playing on a Seattle classical music station at the same time it’s being broadcast, fix a virus in Microsoft Word, check airline schedules, find the closest hotel to my cousin’s house in Memphis and make sure that a newspaper in San Antonio spelled my name right when they reviewed my latest novel.

All for $24.95 a month.

Second, a lot of people are making a lot of money off the Internet. When Netscape went public, its stock shot up faster on the first day than any public offering since the stock markets were created. And whenever there is money to be made, people will make sure we follow.

Third, a lot of avenues you took for granted are going to get more cumbersome. There are already companies who will tell you that your transaction will be finalized in 24 hours if you use e-mail, but over a week if you use regular mail or phone. Many companies are optimizing their operations for use via the Internet, and if you choose to go the old route, you’re going to get progressively more frustrated.

Let’s say you saw an ad on television for a new combination lawn mower and vacuum cleaner. It appears to be the exact thing you’ve been wishing for, and you want to get information on it as soon as possible.

You call the company, and they promise to send you some brochures if they can find any in the back room, which hasn’t been opened in about a month since, you know, the problem with the rats, but sit tight and they’ll do their best.

Meanwhile, your neighbor, who has Internet access, noticed some text down at the bottom of the ad that looked like this:

She gets onto the Internet, and inside of a minute is looking at an animated movie of the Lawn-o-Vac in operation, as well as a menu of options that answer any question you can conceivably come up with. There is also a price list and an order form.

It’s coming. You can’t stop it. But if you don’t learn to exploit it, it may stop you.

And I haven’t even mentioned what your bank will look like in five years.

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