|The Internet is the name for a group of worldwide information resources. These resources are so vast as to be well beyond the comprehension of a single human being. Not only is there no one who understands all of the Internet, there is no one who even understands most of the Internet.
The roots of the Internet lie in a collection of computer networks that were developed in the 1970s. They started with a network called the Arpanet that was sponsored by the United States Department of Defense. The original Arpanet has long since been expanded and replaced, and today its descendants form the global backbone of what we call the Internet.
It would be a mistake, though, to think of the Internet as a computer network, or even a group of computer networks connected to one another. From our point of view, the computer networks are simply the medium that carries the information. The beauty and utility of the Internet lie in the information itself.
Take a moment and skim through the catalog that comprises the last part of this book. Notice the enormous variety. As we start to work together, this is how we want you to think of the Internet: not as a computer network, but as a huge source of practical and enjoyable information.
But this is only the beginning. We would also like you to develop an appreciation of the Internet as a people-oriented society. Put simply, the Internet allows millions of people all over the world to communicate and to share. You communicate by either sending and receiving electronic mail, or by establishing a connection to someone else's computer and typing messages back and forth. You share by participating in discussion groups and by using the many programs and information sources that are available for free.
Does this mean that we are saying that the Internet resources will become as important to you as your telephone and your post office? Yes, that is exactly what we are saying.
In learning how to use the Internet, you are embarking upon a great adventure. You are about to enter a world in which well-mannered people from many different countries and cultures cooperate willingly and share generously. They share their time, their efforts, and their products. (And you will, too.)
For one more moment, take another look at the catalog. Each of those items is there because some person or some group volunteered their time. They had an idea, developed it, created something worthwhile, and then made it available to anyone in the world.
Thus, the Internet is much more than a computer network or an information service. The Internet is living proof that human beings who are able to communicate freely and conveniently will choose to be social and selfless.
The computers are important because they do the grunt work of moving all the data from place to place, and executing the programs that let us access the information. The information itself is important because it offers utility, recreation, and amusement.
But, overall, what is most important is the people. The Internet is the first global forum and the first global library. Anyone can participate, at any time: the Internet never closes. Moreover, no matter who you are, you are always welcome. You will never be excluded for wearing the wrong clothes, having the wrong colored skin, being the wrong religion, or not having enough money.
A cynic might say that the reason the Internet works so well is that there are no leaders. Actually, there is some truth to this. As unbelievable as it sounds, nobody actually "runs" the Internet. Nobody is "in charge" and no single organization pays the cost. The Internet has no laws, no police, and no army. There are no real ways to hurt another person, but there are many ways to be kind. Perhaps, under the circumstances, it is only natural for people to learn how to get along. (Although this does not stop people from arguing.)
What we choose to believe is that, for the first time in history, unlimited numbers of people are able to communicate with ease, and we are finding it is in our nature to be communicative, helpful, curious, and considerate.
That is the Internet.
The Internet Complete Reference (1994)
Harley Hahn and Rick Stout