Computer Communications

Communications. I could barely spell the word, much less comprehend its meaning.
Yet when Mrs. Rubin made the announcement about the new club she was starting at
the junior high school, it triggered something in my mind.

Two weeks later, during the last month of my eighth grade year, I figured it out.
I was rummaging through the basement, and I ran across the little blue box that
my dad had brought home from work a year earlier. Could this be a modem?

I asked Mrs. Rubin about it the next day at school, and when she verified my
expectations, I became the first member of Teleport 2000, the only organization
in the city dedicated to introducing students to the information highway.

This was when 2400-baud was considered state-of-the-art, and telecommunications
was still distant from everyday life. But as I incessantly logged onto Cleveland
Freenet that summer, sending e-mail and posting usenet news messages until my
fingers bled, I began to notice the little things. Electronic mail addresses
started popping up on business cards. Those otherwise-incomprehensible computer
magazines that my dad brought home from work ran monthly stories on
communications-program this, and Internet-system that. Cleveland Freenet\'s
Freeport software began appearing on systems all over the world, in places as
far away as Finland and Germany - with free telnet access!

I didn\'t live life as a normal twelve-year-old kid that summer. I sat in front
of the monitor twenty-four hours a day, eating my meals from a plate set next to
the keyboard, stopping only to sleep. When I went back to school in the fall, I
was elected the first president of Teleport 2000, partially because I was the
only student in-the school with a freenet account, but mostly because my
enthusiasm for this new, exciting world was contagious.

Today, as the business world is becoming more aware of the advantages of
telecommunications, and the younger generation is becoming more aware of the
opportunities, it is successfully being integrated into all aspects of our
society. Companies are organizing Local Area Networks and tapping into
information resources through internal networking and file sharing, and children
of all ages are entertained by the GUI-based commercial systems and amazed by
the worldwide system of gopher and search services. As a result, a million more
people join the \'net every month, according to a 1994 article by Vic Sussman in
U.S. News & World Report.

They say that the worldwide community used to double its knowledge every century.
Right now, that rate has been reduced to seven years, and is constantly
decreasing. I\'ve learned more since I started traveling the information highway
than I could have possibly imagined. Through File Transfer Protocol sites, I can
download anything from virus-detection utilities to song lyrics and guitar tabs.
I receive press releases, proclamations and international news from the White
House via a mailing list. I even e-mailed President Clinton recently and
received a response the next day. And it was just a few months ago that I hung
up my 2400-baud modem for a replacement six times as fast.

The essence of this international system of systems was neatly summed up by
David S. Jackson and Suneel Ratan in a recent Time article: "The magic of the
Net is that it thrusts people together in a strange new world, one in which they
get to rub virtual shoulders with characters they might otherwise never meet."

To me, this electronic "Cyberspace" was like kindergarten all over again. It was
not only an introduction to a whole new world of exciting opportunities, but it
helped me take a step further into maturity. Communicating with others on this
alternate plane of reality was so different, yet so similar, to the world I had
already experienced. The Internet is a place where the only way you can view
people is by how they choose to display themselves. Because you can\'t see other
users, you can\'t make any prejudgments based upon race, sex, or physical
handicap. As stated by John R. Levine and Carol Baroudi in The Internet for
Dummies, \'Who you are on the Internet depends solely on how you present yourself
through your keyboard."

The reason for this is simple. The people who created this form of communication
weren\'t interested in that. They didn\'t care about political or ethnic
boundaries; they only cared about the abstract. As a result, the parallel world
they conceived contained a true form of equality. "One computer is no better
than any other, and no person is better than any other," wrote Levine and
Baroudi, and the only way this right can