Special note: Much of this is somewhat pointless, as you are obviously reading this on the web. My goal here is to try to give, as briefly as possible, an overview of what web cruising is like. Fact is, 80 to 90 percent of the population has no idea. After this they still may not, but some may be intrigued enough to find out. Let me know what you think. -- chris
nd now, a few words to the 90 percent of you whose eyes
glazed over while reading the previous paragraph.
Unless you've been hiding in a cave for the last year or so, you've heard a lot of ballyhooing about the internet, a great information superhighway that brings the world to your fingertips - or at least your computer monitor. Despite the healthy scepticism that should accompany anything hyped that strongly, there really is something good available. In particular, if you're really interested in the environment (or just about anything else, for that matter) and happen to have a computer, the World Wide Web (WWW) provides quick, inexpensive access to organizations and individuals with similar interests.
If you haven't "browsed the web," the process goes something like this. Imagine you're sitting in front of a computer monitor. On the screen is a colorful display of pictures and text, sort of like a magazine page. When you start out, the first "web page" you see generally displays a list of topics: cool stuff, travel, politics, national news, sports, hobbies, etc. Basically, its like a table of contents. Some of the pictures and text are underlined in blue; these are links. Using a "mouse" (I hope you know what that is) you slide a pointer on the screen over a blue item and "click" to select it. The screen clears and is replaced (after a pause) by a new page about the item you have selected. From there, you can "click" link on the new page, or go back where you came from. That's really all there is to it. Bonnie, our sales manager and computer neophyte, was off and running in about 15 minutes.
Of course, this is a little like explaining how to drive a car without describing where you could go, or how you could find a Pick-n-Save. Where you can go is almost anywhere. At this point, there are hundreds of thousands of web sites. Virtually all major organizations - as well as countless small ones (like us) and many individuals - have web sites. Non-profits present their goals and programs. For-profits show off their products and services. From educational institutions you can find everything from a catalog of classes to the latest research findings. The United States government supplies everything from census data to pending legislation to space photos. Many magazines now have electronic versions, sometimes available before the printed copies hit the streets. In the environmental arena, there are hundreds of pages (maybe thousands; I haven't counted).
So, how do you find all this great stuff? There are things called "search engines" that do the job for you. All you have to do is type in a few key words and they will present a list of web sites that match. From there, it's just point and click.
Of course, there's a whole lot of silly, fun stuff. Live photos of a drawbridge in Sweden (you can watch it go up and down). A web page with thousands of "lightbulb" jokes ("how many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb"). A personal web page containing the owner's baby pictures. A model train layout you can run from your own computer. This is good comic relief for a week or two, but it is the serious stuff that provides lasting value.
o, if you're not on the web, find someone who is and
have them give you a tour. If you're seriously interested in the environment
- or politics, science, art, or any of a hundred other topics - the web
may be an important new source. If you're an activist or organizer, get
Compared to printing on paper, publishing on the web is a pleasure. No printers to deal with. No printing or distribution expenses. No deadlines or delays - you can put out new stories whenever you want. No trees are sacrificed to get the word out. And there are practically no size limitations. Each month, we agonize over what to publish and what we have to leave out. On the web, it's just data - 1s and 0s - not pounds of paper. In comparison, the 1s and 0s are very inexpensive.
Electronic publishing isn't going to supplant the traditional media soon, if ever. You can't browse the web at the breakfast table, or while riding in a car, or while waiting in a queue. But the power and simplicity of immediate access to what you want when you want it is a tantalizing new capability. It'll be interesting to see where it leads.