The Dawn of E-Life: There's No Turning Back. Once a Novelty, the Internet Is Now Transforming How Americans Live, Think, Talk and Love; How We Go to School, Make Money, See the Doctor and Elect Presidents. This Isn't Just about the Future-It's about the Here and Now. A Special Newsweek Report

Article excerpt

Was there a single moment when we turned the corner? When we moved from a culture centered on network television, phones with wires, information on paper and stock prices based on profit into a digital society of buddy lists, streaming video, Matt Drudge and 34-year-old billionaires in tennis shoes? Did the transition come with the Deep Blue chess match, when millions of Web-surfers watched a stack of computer chips dominate the world's greatest player in a test of "intelligence"? Could the global outburst of online mourning after the death of Princess Diana have marked our passage? Did it come last Christmas, when hundreds of thousands of shoppers avoided malls and clicked through their gift lists? Or was it the on- line lingerie fashion show? The online birth? And just when did putting an e-mail address on a business card stop marking you as ahead of your time?

Let the chat rooms debate what marked the turning point. What's certain is that America has digitized, and there's no going back. Worldwide there are almost 200 million people on the Internet. In the United States alone, 80 million. The numbers tell just part of the story: the Net is no longer a novelty, an interesting way to pass the time. A third of wired Americans now do at least some of their shopping on the Net, and some are already consulting doctors on the Net, listening to radio on the Net, making investments on the Net, getting mortgages on the Net, tracking packages on the Net, getting news on the Net, having phone conversations on the Net, checking out political candidates on the Net, even, um, having sex on the Net. Each of these activities is impressive, but the aggregate effect is a different kind of life. Our goal in this special issue of NEWSWEEK is to examine what's happened, why, and how the Internet is changing the way we live now.

It's been 30 years since the Internet's predecessor, the Arpanet, was switched on to help academics and government wonks get connected. Almost 25 years since the first software for personal computers (co-written by some kid named Bill Gates). About five years since the Net became in effect the world's grandest public utility, driven by a combination of cheap, powerful PCs, a remarkably scalable infrastructure that sped up our connections (though not enough), and easy-to-use browsing software that took advantage of the Net's open rules. …