Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Internet: Journey into Cyberspace

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Internet: Journey into Cyberspace

Article excerpt

People all over the world are taking their first steps on the information superhighway by joining the Internet. Chatting about science, sport or politics with someone on the other side of the globe; consulting the catalogue of the Library of Congress in Washington; admiring the masterpieces in Florence's Uffizi Gallery; delving into UNESCO'S data base in Paris - these are just a few of the myriad possibilities open to Internet users.

* WHAT IS IT?

It has become virtually impossible to open a newspaper, a news-magazine or a professional journal without finding something about the Internet. This super-telematic network, the world's largest, is being seen as a phenomenon unequalled Since the invention of the printing press and a revolution in the production, circulation and exchange of information. It consists of more than 13,000 interconnected computer networks, and the number of its users (high-school and university students, researchers, engineers), already estimated to be some 30 million in 150 countries, is increasing every day.

Forerunner of the "information superhighways" of the twenty-first century, to use the expression coined during the American presidential campaign of 1992 by vice-presidential candidate Al Gore, the Internet was set up in the United States in the 1960s. Originally intended only to link up a few computers belonging to research centres and universities working on a defence project, the network is today growing at the rate of 20 per cent per month, and its management is completely decentralized. Internet is not owned by anyone. Each network pays for the installation and operating costs as well as its being connected up to the other networks.

In short the Internet Is both an electronic village and an international campus where all information is gradually organized into an immense virtual library. It is also a gigantic test bench for developing open networks covering the entire planet.

* WHAT ARE ITS USES?

First of all it is used for communicating via electronic mail (e-mail). This abolishes the notion of distance. Users from the world over can chat back and forth or take part in roundtable discussions at low cost. For example, high-school students in San Diego (U.S.A.) send and receive letters from students in a school in Israel. During the attempted coup d'etat in Russia in August 1991, RELCOM, a small network linked to the Internet through Finland, was the only means of communication between Moscow and the outside world.

The Internet mailbox hosts debates and forums, serious and light-hearted, on all kinds of subjects, from science and politics to leisure, sports and games. In order to receive messages in your electronic mailbox from other subscribers and to send out replies all you have to do is subscribe. It is an unparalleled device for finding the solution to a problem. There is always someone along the highway who knows the answer.

Images and sounds, as well as computer data, travel around the Internet, which makes it possible to consult from a distance the catalogues of the world's great libraries, that of the Library of Congress, for example, in the United States, visualize satellite photos taken by the American national meteorological service, admire the masterpieces on display in Madrid's Prado, the Orsay Museum in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence. It is also possible to procure software - free-of-charge if it is in the public domain (freeware) and for a nominal charge if it is shareware. Books and newspapers can be published electronically on the Internet, and international conferences can even be organized through it. …

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