Language, Literature, and Communication
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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Exploring the World of the Internet
Imagine trying to describe a forest filled with winding trails, grottos and mountains, deep pools and open meadows. Imagine trying to describe this landscape by walking through it, questioning its inhabitants, and drawing a map that seems to change each day. I have sought to describe such a world–not an actual forest, but the global network of computers known as the Internet. In doing this, I have learned how rapidly the Internet grows, and the vast amount of information it offers.
My journey exploring the Internet brought me in contact with many of its tools and forums for communication. As a doctoral student in Communication and Rhetoric at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), I became interested in the Internet as one forum for Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC), a rich and growing field of study. Previous to starting at RPI, was a graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. There, I learned the culture of the Internet and some of its applications such as electronic mail, USENET, talk, telnet, and ftp. Building on this understanding of Computer Science and computer culture, I began my attempt to describe the Internet in May 1992. I posted a note to a USENET newsgroup, asking for advice on how I might start. Some people suggested a booklet that was then circulating in its first edition, “Zen and the Art of the Internet” by Brendan Kehoe. I was fascinated with Brendan’s description of the Internet and how to navigate it. However, I still felt a need for a verbal map, some sort of compact statement of how to find out more. So I continued looking for more information about the Internet, through following leads in the “Zen” book and from other clues in USENET newsgroups. As I found out information about the Internet, I recorded, in a computer file, a description of the sources for information. I found information at ftp sites, in USENET newsgroups, and in printed sources of information. All this information began to create a picture for me—a picture of a vast community of scholars and users sharing information.
Concentrating on finding out as many sources of information about the Internet and CMC as possible, my information file grew, and m mental map of the Internet expanded. Eventually, I shared my information file with others–first in the USENET newsgroup alt.internet.services, then at the ftp site at my school (ftp site: ftp.rpi. edu; directory: pub/communications; filename: internet-cmc). I began to see that, although the Internet is not run by any one organization, there are many very reliable sources of information about it. Through network information tools like Gopher, Veronica, Archie, and WAIS, one ca find bits and pieces of information on almost any subject. I collected lists of f sites which held explanatory information about network services and to Is, accessing networks, Internet maps, training information, and mailing lists a d LISTSERV information servers related to the Internet and CMC. I kept reorganizing my data file and creating more categories. Many people retrieved my da a file and had comments on it and suggestions for other sources of information.
Today, I still maintain my data file. What had began for me as a mysterious journey has become an adventure. The Internet grows and changes quickly, almost like the weather, and new tools and services spring up like new growth after a rain. However, I’ve begun to learn that there are sources of information, sources put together by the community of people on the Internet. I have learned that the Internet itself can tell its own story.