The New Internet

Without a doubt, the Internet is undergoing a major transition as it experiences a tremendous influx of new users. Due to the anarchic, distributed nature of the net, we cannot even begin to enumerate the population of the Internet or its growth. As more of the world\'s population moves on-line, new concerns will arise which did not confront the earlier generations. The new culture will demand different resources, services and technology than the old generations expected and used. Already we can witness a clash between the emergent culture and the entrenched culture. The largest conflicts occurring now are about sharing resources, the impending commercialization of the net, and the growing problem of computer crime.

The Internet was born in the union of government and researchers, and for two decades afterwards remained mostly the realm of those two groups. The net began as ARPANET, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Net, designed to be decentralized to sustain operations through a nuclear attack. This nature persists today in the resilience of the net, both technologically and in its culture. ARPANET was phased out in 1990 and the net backbone was taken over by NSFNET (National Science Foundation). Since 1969 the main users of cyberspace have been involved in research or in the university community as computer experts or hackers, exploring the limitations and capabilities of this new technology. These people formed a cohesive community with many of the same goals and ethics. In addition to the homogeneity of the net, the small size contributed to a strong feeling of community. There has been some conflict between the hackers and the researchers over sharing resources, and philosophies about security and privacy, but on the whole, the two groups have co-existed without major incident.

The newest of the members of the so-called old generation are the university users who are not involved in research work on the net. Generally these are the students using the net for email, reading netnews and participating in interactive real-time conversations through talk, telnet or irc. This wave of people integrated smoothly with the community as it existed. Still sharing the common research and education orientation, the community remained cohesive and the culture did not change much, perhaps it only expanded in the more playful areas. These users did not compete with the researchers for resources other than computer time, which was rapidly becoming more available throughout the eighties.

It is only in the past year or two that we have begun to see the explosion of the new generation on the Internet. Businesses have begun connecting themselves to the net, especially with the prospect of the NSFNET backbone changing hands to permit commercial traffic. Public access nets run by communities or businesses are springing up in cities all over the world, bringing in users who know little about computers and are more interested in the entertainment and information they can glean from the net. Commercial providers like America Online and Compuserve are beginning to open gateways from their exclusive services to the open Internet, specifically allowing their users to access email, netnews and soon ftp and telnet services. The explosion of BBSs and the shared Fidonet software has brought many users who were previously unable to get an account through a university to the world of email and netnews. At this point, anyone with a computer and a modem can access these most basic services. Several state s, such as Maryland, have begun efforts to connect all their residents to the net, often through their library system. The city of Cambridge, MA now offers access to the world wide web for short segments of time in its public libraries, and even several progressive coffeehouses in the San Francisco Bay area and soon in the Boston area are offering public net access.

In the last 20 years, the net has developed slowly, adapting comfortably as its population grew steadily and shifted the culture to more diverse interests. But as the net faces a huge increase in its users in a short time, the reaction is bound to be more severe, and debate will center around several key issues that were irrelevant in a small homogeneous community. The establishment of new customs concerning these issues will define the culture of the future