Rx for Information Overload



Elmo Spludd


Port Huron In Midst of Newbie Invasion

Oh, good, you're on the Internet.

And if you're a Blue Water baby, chances are this is a recent development

Despite all the buzz the past few years about the Internet and the World Wide Web and "universal access," the fact remains that most people, and the vast majority of people in rural areas, are just discovering the Internet.

A frequent complaint of rural newbies, and one heard quite often hereabouts, is: "I can't get local access." And indeed it's true. If you live in St. Clair County and aren't in a Port Huron or Marysville telephone exchange, you probably have to pay long-distance charges to get on line. Bummer.

Here's some more bad news: Check your phone bill, because you're probably paying for Internet access even if you don't use it.

I can hear you saying: "???!!!!???" Allow me to clarify.

One of the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was that public institutions receive federally-mandated discounts from phone companies for Internet installation and service. Libraries and schools, for example, can receive substantial discounts in the cost of installing T-1 lines. Last month the Associated Press reported that most phone companies will begin recouping their losses (read: restoring their accustomed profit margins) by upping the ante for basic phone service to everyone else. These increases should begin showing up on phone bills early in 1998.

So once again government and big business have conspired to redistribute wealth in a way that is essentially painless for politicians and stockholders and somewhat of a pain in the pocketbook for everyone else.

The moral of the story is that if you live in a rural area and can't find an internet service provider that will get you connected for the cost of a local call, you should pop on down to the nearest public library, announce that you are a member of the new underclass known as the "information poor," and ask what the library plans to do about it. And if you have kids in public schools, make sure they're getting their fair share also.

Speaking of kids, I used to subscribe to the popular myth that kids knew more about computers than us old fogies, based, I suppose, on the theory that the schools were filled with computers and the little dears practically lived on them. I don't know how this rumor got started. The kids I know can whip my butt at Nintendo, and that seems to be the extent of their "computer literacy," if you can call it that.

In the meantime grandpa and grandma got a high-end PC for Christmas and don't know the first thing about it. More's the pity if they think the grandkids are going to teach them how to use it the same way their kids showed them how to program their VCR back in the olden days.

So if you are importuned for sage words of PC advice by grandma and grandpa, or any of the other hordes of newbies buzzing around the hive, Elmo's advice to you is to ask the standard question: "What do you want to use your computer for?" Nine times out of ten you'll hear the same thing: Internet access and e-mail. Suggest they get rid of their PC and start thinking about Web TV.

I admit it: I don't know the first thing about Web TV except for what I read in the papers. It seems like a match made in heaven--use the idiot box to surf the Net. Most people have about as much use for actual computing applications at home as I have for newborn triplets. I bought my computer over two years ago and still have never used half the software it came with. You wanna write letters, dust off that old typewriter and go to it. You want Internet and email, investigate this Web TV thing. Let me know what you find out.


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