to PUBLISHING ON THE WORLD-WIDE WEB
BY ANDY IHNATKO
Well, look: I'm going to write this foreword, readers, but I'm not going to pretend that I'm all that happy about it. Don't get me wrong, here. I know you're probably all excited about the possibilities of the World-Wide Web, and that just from flipping through this volume here in the bookstore you've confirmed for yourself that in terms of universal coolness the Web is better than sliced bread which has been dressed in the cat's pajamas. And I want to tell you you're right to think that way, really, even though the very thought of the Web causes the bile to well up from whatever part of whichever bodily system bile is supposed to well up from. I can't remember what it is, because as I'm sure you've gathered by now, the Web has me rather rattled.
I mean, try to see this thing from my point of view. In 1984, with trembling hands and a sketchy list of instructions which an acquaintance had dictated to me over the phone a few hours earlier, I turned on my clunky Corona PC, manually established a 1200 baud connection to a UNIX dialup host, launched a then-alien UNIX program known as Telnet, and after feeding the thing a bewildering sequence of numbers and periods I was welcomed as a guest into a high-energy physics lab located in Colorado.
At that point, a gauzy apparition shimmered into physical presence right there next to me, accompanied by a fanfare of poorly-synthesized electronic horns. It congratulated me on having joined the small-but-growing Net community and promised that though becoming a NetGeek meant never demonstrating an iota of fashion sense ever again, I'd be in for many, many years of incredibly cool online adventures. The apparition then presented me with a list of pizza joints in my area which delivered after 2AM and shimmered away.
And the spectre was 100% correct. Though the tools for navigating the Internet were arcane and poorly-documented, I learned them all, amassing knowledge of UNIX, telnet, Kermit, NNTP, FTP, uucp, and other complex acronyms which I list in the hopes that I'll confuse you enough that you'll actually be a little impressed. And though learning all of those tools was not unlike falling down and landing on the pocket I keep my keys and Swiss Army Knife in, it wasn't nearly as difficult as meticulously filling log book after log book with electronic addresses, passwords, account names, names of human contacts and dialup numbers a bewildering array of profane incantations which were required to gain access to Internet sites and information.
But it was all worth it, not the least because to the casual observer I was some sort of minor deity. I would demonstrate the variety of sources of information available on the Internet, and after ten minutes of fluttering my hands over the keyboard, moving through system after system, flitting through governments, countries, universities, and megalithic corporations, the effect upon my audience was so profound that immediately after switching off my modem, people would pass me babies to bless. Yes, the impact was that dramatic. In later years, I began to assemble my own online services, and after a half-hour tour of those they'd meekly ask me if there wasn't something I could do about irregular plate tectonics. At the beach, children's beachballs would be carried out by the undertow and their owner's parents would ask me if I wouldn't mind just trotting out there and retrieving it for them.
Never underestimate the power of a really good demo.
Then, along comes this hotsy-totsy Word-Wide Web, and where does it leave me? Now there's no need to know a dozen different Internet tools inside and out. No meticulously-maintained logbooks of addresses and passwords, either. Today, any eight-year-old child can, after spending ten or twelve hours installing and configuring software, fire up Netscape or Mosaic or MacWeb, click three buttons and within moments be counting missile silos in the Ural Mountains, courtest of a KH-14 spy satellite gatewayed to a CU-CME server. "But look!" I used to pathetically offer, before I rediscovered my pride, "I've just written a macro which in just a half an hour gives you the weather in Norway!" Then the kids would kick me in the shins and make fun of my clothes before continuing to load up full-motion video clips onto their own personal Web pages.
So you can understand why I'm a little bitter about all of this. I mean, sure, I've still got my Hardware and Science Fiction Geekdoms to fall back on, but nonetheless it'll take me a while to accept the fact that now the doors of the NetGeek club have been thrown open to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet. I'll just sort of soldier on, and occasionally cuddle up with my nine-volume AT&T System V documentation every so often, just for old times' sake.
Still, as a card-carrying member of the human species, I'm dashed proud that a society which dilly-dallied for 30,000 years before developing a combination shampoo and conditioner managed to create something as wonderful as the Web so quickly. It took many years for us to understand the impact which the automobile could have on our society, to see the role it would serve beyond its initial function. Ditto for television. With the advent of the Web, electronic communications is finally beginning to take its rightful place as an integrated component of human society. Unlike all other forms of public communication, which either limit you to a piddling handful of listeners or require you to become dwarfed by the rules and rates of a much larger organization, the Web allows you to put information in the hands of tens of thousands of people cheaply and easily, whether you're a proud member of the proletariat or a cowering part of the industrial bourgeoi...er, I mean, one of those Stalwart Captains of Industry which make out society great.
So read on and learn. Someday you'll tell your great-grandkids about this period of history. And then they'll probably kick you in the shins and go back to their 4-D holoencephalographic trispatial navigators. When they do, listen carefully because you can be sure that wherever I am, I'll be laughing.