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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: in_intr.asc

"Inside Internet" - Maclean's, 94/01/17




Taken from: Maclean's Magazine, January 17, 1994.



                        Cover: Inside Internet

The  `Net'  is  crammed  with  scholary  and  scientific data, public
records,  recipies,  weather reports, airline schedules - and endless
chatter.

Every day,  an  estimated 300 gigabytes of data - the equivalent of a
half million 250-page  books -  pour  through   the  U.S.  section of
Internet, the huge computer network that links universities, research
institutions,  government  agencies  and businesses around the world.
Last  week,  Maclean's  Science and Technology Editor Mark Nichols, a
newcomer  to  computer networks,  explored  the "Net" and its various
new groups, where debates and discussions take place.  His report:
                              ---------
In  the news group called alt.out-of-body, a conversation is going on
about  whether people who crave so-called out-of-body experiences are
flirting with   satanism.   "Yes,  this  is  satanic,"  a participant
insists.   "If you do this, you are opening yourself up for all sorts
of demonic  spiritual activity in your life."  In alt.conspiracy.jfk,
another  group  is obsessively arguing about who really shot the 35th
president  of  the United States.  In soc.culture.canada, someone has
put forward the  idea that ketchup-flavored potato chips are a unique
Canadian contribution  to  junk  food.   A discussion  develops about
salt-and-vinegar  flavored  chips:  are they  a Canadian or a British
invention?
   On and on it goes, an endless flow of chatter  on a network packed
with a mind-numbing  assortment   of   conversation  and information.
Lodged  in  the  system  are  huge amounts of environmental, medical,
scholary   and  scientific  data,  government  documents  and  public
records, recipes, airline  schedules, weather reports, the full texts
of the Bible,  the Torah and the Koran and a Star Trek archive at the
University of Nebraska.
   A good place to begin exploring is in a section called Usenet, the
gateway to  Internet's  estimated  7,000  news  groups, or discussion
forums.  After consulting an index, the Internet user can gain access
to  any news  group from science  to  sports, Spanish culture to soap
operas,  by  typing  an   abbreviated title such as comp.videodisc or
rec.auto.antique.
   In  addition  to  the  formidable list of mostly serious subjects,
Internet users over the years have built up a roster of "alternative"
groups.   In  the  alt.  news  groups,   discussions are uninhibited,
frequently  zany  and  sometimes  raunchy.   In  alt.sex, where 1,341
messages were posted in a recent five-day period, the talk featured a
male  participant's   tale of masturbating in a mall, an appeal by an
Ottawa-area photographer  for  a nude female model ("the body will be
used  as  a  design element forming a landscape") and a young woman's
request for advice on oral sex techniques (she is told to "enlist the
help of someone more experienced to discuss it with.  In person would
be best.")
   A  more  sedate  Internet region can be reached through the Gopher
system, a type of index  that lets users browse through the resources
avaliable  at hundreds  of  universities and institutions.  There are
gophers - reached  by  making  a selection on a gopher menu - for the
U.S. Library of Congress,  for the United Nations, for scores of U.S.
and Canadian  universities  and  even for whole regions of the world,
including  Africa,  Asia, Europe, S outh America and the Pacific.  If
someone  needs  a text avaliable at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in
Bratislava, this is the way to find it.
   For  the  nonscientific,  there is  a  rich trove of knowledge and
entertainment.   Users  can   consult   their horoscope, check on the
weather  anywhere  in the world or play electronic games.  A database
at England's University  of  Manchester contains plot summaries, cast
lists  and  details  for  more than 6,500 pre-1986 movies.  The music
library  at  the  University  of  California  at  Santa Barbara lists
thousands  of  recommended  classical  music compact-disc recordings.
With the right equipment - a software item called a sound car - users
can receive digitized music from a number of on-line sources and play
it through their  computers.   All kinds of images, from paintings to
antique  automobiles,  are  also  avaliable - as well as pornographic
pictures.  In a typical news group posting, an Internet user recently
advised:  "If  you  are  interested in sexy Oriental girls' pictures,
please send your e-mail address to me."
   Elsewhere  on Internet, lovers of literature can tap the resources
of the University  of Minnesota's Project  Gutenberg, which is making
the texts of thousands of literary classics avaliable on-line.  Among
the books already in the system: Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland,
The Communist Manifesto   by  Karl Marx  and Frederick Engels, Joseph
Conrad's  Lord Jim  and  Herman  Melville's   Moby Dick.   If,  after
spending   time  immersed  in  Great Literature, the user craves more
frivolous diversion,  the   tantalizing  titles  of as-yet unexplored
alternative  groups - alt.beer, alt.romance, alt.showbiz.gossip - may
beckon   across   the   extraordinary  electronic  universe  that  is
Internet.


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