I first used computers back in the late 70's. The computers we used back then filled up an entire air-conditioned room, and had blinking lights and whirling tape reels. I would type up a program at a keypunch machine, one line of code to a card, and then run the stack of cards through a magnetic hopper. When I could get access to a terminal, the best we had to edit text with was a line editor-- not a full-screen text editor, but a one-line-at-a-time line editor-- far more primitive even than the old DOS EDLIN utility. No backspace key, use ^H instead.

Mandrake Linux 9.1, running Fluxbox Back then, the laptop computer I have today would have seemed like science fiction. And I never would have dreamed of anything as wide-ranging, as extensive, as disorganized as today's Internet. I used to hear that someday we would look up information by computer. Somehow what I envisioned was information neatly and linearly organized, as if in an old-fashioned card catalog.

I should have read Marshall McLuhan! The Gutenberg Galaxy. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Fifty years ago and more, McLuhan could see where we were heading. The cultural ramifications of a new medium. The tribal drumbeat. The curvature of consciousness, like curved space-time. Information propagated and organized, not in a rectangular graph-paper grid, but along the geodesics of a densely interwoven web.

Opera, the Fastest Browser on Earth! I think today's Internet is a wonder. It enables people to communicate freely in ways no Thought Police can hope to control. In the old Soviet Union, the government carefully guarded access to photocopy machines. As a tool to beat tyranny and mind control, the Internet is like a photocopier to the 10th power. No wonder the suit-and-ties are always looking for ways to regulate the Net. But they won't succeed. It's too late for that. The Internet is at your fingertips, and out of their control.

Opera 7.11, with BluesM-7 skin Thirty or forty years ago, if you had interests that didn't hew close to the norm, very likely you were alone in the world. So you made up your own variations of chess? You created your own fully detailed language? You became interested in how your senses "cross over," so that to you each day of the week has always had its own color? (Each of these examples is taken from my own life story.)

Thirty or forty years ago there was, in all our society, no public outlet for any of these interests-- no forum or exchange where you could ever hope to meet another soul who shared such interests.

My Windows Desktop Today, in the 21st century, that is no longer so. There are sites and virtual communities based on interests which, just a generation ago, were not even a blip on the cultural radar screen. The ambit of human reality is expanding, even as the globe shrinks to a mathematical point.

Though I keep pushing people to be mindful of their privacy on the Net. Is Big Brother watching you? Here are some useful computer privacy links.

—August 2001

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