The Millennium

It's hard to approach the coming millennium without looking back at those events which have impacted our lives. As older adults there are a multitude of things we have seen and participated in which have affected us in so many ways. Since this is a computer column however, I would like to spend a few moments looking back at the immense changes which we have witnessed just in the last few decades.

My daughter emailed me the other day after she read my column on buying on the Internet. She observed that when the student said "never", it may not have had anything to do with not wanting to use a credit card in cyberspace. It may have had more to do with the feeling that the Internet could be destroying the community in which we live. That wasn't the meaning that I attributed to that comment but, for the sake of argument, let's explore this line of thought.

Much has been written about how the Internet is changing everyone's lives. How people from all over the world can communicate almost instantly and form virtual bonds over cyberspace without ever meeting. The words "community" and "democracy" have been bandied about like religious symbols.

Ester Dyson, a well known cyberspace futurist, in her book, "Release 2.0", says that, "used right, the Internet can be a powerful enabling technology fostering the development of communities because it supports the very thing that creates a community - human interaction."

But is my daughter correct? Does the Internet do just the opposite? Does it destroy community because it fosters interactions in cyberspace with no human contact?

Recently I purchased books from an online bookseller. I sat in front of my screen, searched by title, made a few mouse clicks and books were sent on their way to my doorstep. I had no human interaction. I didn't go to my local bookstore and speak with a knowledgeable salesperson or owner. I didn't browse the shelves, have a cup of coffee, meet other people, discuss books in general or have any human discourse.

What I did possibly was help destroy my own community. Even though the local bookstore is owned by a chain from New York, there still are real people there who love books and are knowledgeable and helpful. But by buying on the Internet I may have hastened the day that this chain thinks it no longer can support a local outlet. It was so easy to go online that I turned my back on my local store.

Am I painting a dark picture of the Internet? There are dark sides to cyberspace. However there are many, many positive things that are worth considering.

Before 1990 there was no World Wide Web. Then a young computer engineer developed computer software which caused a revolution. From that year forward our lives began to change. We did become members of a wider "community." From our living rooms, and with a few mouse clicks, we could peruse the world. We could see the pictures in the Louvre. In cyberspace we could visit the parks of Singapore. Our recipes for Paella now were downloaded from all over the world. Using Email we could exchange words nearly instantaneously with family, friends and new acquaintances any place on Earth.

We found that, at any age, we could take part in this revolution using inexpensive computers and by paying a small monthly charge to be "connected."

Maybe we even participated in a new "democracy." Since thoughts and reactions could be transmitted instantaneously we could shower our political leaders with Emails. No longer did an unwise word or action go unnoticed. They heard from us after a few mouse clicks.

Is cyberspace a panacea? Will it change our lives for the better? Will it become so much a part of future generations that they won't know anything else? Only time will tell. Is the Internet a "bright shining star" or is there a dark side to it that we don't want to see?

Probably Ester Dyson is correct. "Used right" it can become an enriching part of our lives, letting us participate in a new "democracy" as part of a new "community." But let us approach it with thoughtfulness as well as wonder.

Have a Happy Holiday.

Sites of the week:

If you would like to know more about the evolution of the World Wide Web, especially if you are a "nerd", look at Tim Berners-Lee was the computer engineer who started it all. He also has a new book out called "Weaving the Web" by Harper San Francisco.

If you are more interested just in having fun, try a new search engine that a lot of people are talking about. Just type in a sentence like, "how do I cook paella" (without the quote marks) and see what you get.

 _____________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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