A NEW WORLD ORDER Just 10 Years Old, the World Wide Web Could Rival Writing and the Printing Press in Changing How We Communicate and Share Information

By Bull, Roger | The Florida Times Union, December 16, 1999 | Go to article overview

A NEW WORLD ORDER Just 10 Years Old, the World Wide Web Could Rival Writing and the Printing Press in Changing How We Communicate and Share Information


Bull, Roger, The Florida Times Union


Let's put this whole human communication thing in context. It's been about 5,500 years since writing was invented. Man no longer had to be content with telling war stories around the campfire. He could scribble those tales down and share them with the world.

It's been about 550 years since Johannes Gutenberg made the printing press practical. Man could then print pages rapidly instead of having to copy each one, oh so painstakingly. Books became plentiful enough to share with the world.

It's been 10 years since the World Wide Web was created. Now everyone can share everything with the world.

That's pretty heady, historic company for the Web to be in. But David Abrahamson, associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University, said the impact of the Web could be that big.

"It's really too early to say what the long-term effect will be," Abrahamson said. "But if one thinks about the orality/scribal boundary 5,000 years ago, or the scribal/print boundary in the mid-15th century, it's starting to look like the effects of this transformation may be just as profound."

What the Web had done, he said, is change "the whole model of our top-down social organization. We've always had a hierarchical organization. But by definition, the Web is not hierarchical. Theoretically, when everyone has access to everything, no one controls access to the information. Then we have to find completely new models for society."

A little history:

What came to be called the Internet actually got its start 30 years ago. Some people say the birth was on Sept. 2, 1969, in a lab at UCLA. Then, a few bits of information flowed between two not-so-personal computers along a 15-foot cable.

Others say it began six weeks later when information was sent from that UCLA lab to one a few hundred miles away at Stanford University. An interesting note is that scientists attempted to send the word "login" over the phone lines. But the system crashed after the "o."

The network that sprang from those first transmission was called the Arpanet because it was sponsored by the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as ARPA.

Applications such as e-mail and file transfer utilities came along in the next decade, but it was not until 1989 that the World Wide Web debuted. For those who don't understand the difference, the Web is part of the Internet. The Internet is the entire network of personal pages, commercial sites, e-mail, bulletin boards and everything else.

The Web is all those sites and pages, those personal pages and dot-coms. It's the places where you can find the entire script for Pulp Fiction or buy Beanie Babies, where anyone with a video camera can show the world live video of their fish tank or their bedroom.

It's sites as big as Ebay, which, at one point last week, had 3.36 million items registered for sale in 2,568 categories. At least 350,000 new items are listed every day.

It's Priceline.com, selling 40,000 airline tickets a week online.

Commercial sites and online shopping, of course, have become a huge part of the Internet. In a National Retail Federation survey, 10 percent of respondents expected to use online services for holiday shopping this year, up from 5 percent last year.

But the Web is also made up of sites as small as the one George Korbe set up to help his Arlington neighbors with their lawn and gardens. Korbe, a Navy machinist, is a certified master gardener and had been doing a newsletter with monthly gardening tips for other residents of New Mill Cove East.

But that got to be expensive, printing and copying all those newsletters. Even though Korbe had been online less than a year at the time, he set up a Web site called Korbegardens. Now, when he notices lawns getting a little seedy, he puts up a little more information on the care of St. Augustine grass.

He said 16 of the 30 homes in the subdivision are online.

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A NEW WORLD ORDER Just 10 Years Old, the World Wide Web Could Rival Writing and the Printing Press in Changing How We Communicate and Share Information
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