Gift that won't set you back years
You have to think very carefully about what to give to your literate computer-phobic friends. If you give them the wrong thing, you can set them back years.
Fortunately, Paul Gilster's books are structured, cultured, balanced, with the nerd tendency tightly lashed down.
Gilster is not an obsessive but someone who is writing about the Internet because it has enriched his already full life. The examples that he gives enable you to reconstruct the interests of a rounded man who enjoys such things as psychiatry, zen, art, literature and history.
All books on the Internet date badly. The Web Navigator suffers less than most. Gilster can predict well. His chapter, "Breakthrough Web Technologies", is a fine summary of where we are at the moment. Lucidly, he explains Java, network computers, agents, plug-ins, virtual reality, Web telephony and white boards.
Two crucial subjects are publishing on the Web and searching. Gilster devotes a chapter to each of them and, although he does not deal with them in an educational context, he illuminates the areas well enough. The 45 pages on searching are probably the best introduction to the subject written for a general audience.
Gilster analyses the major pieces of software and discusses the different methods.
His guide to publishing on the Internet is concise, written for the kind of people who do not want to submerge themselves in the codes that are necessary to create pages. The best part is the succinct advice that he gives about the aesthetics of page design.
There are drawbacks: the book was written for American readers and all the prices and examples mentioned are from the US, and education is not a primary focus.
However, if you want a good, well-written Internet introduction that covers most of the ground, this is the one to get.
At least the price is about half of what you would normally expect to pay for a glossy US paperback like this.
As for your literate computer-phobic friends, read this to them about how Gilster sees the future of books: "Books in an on-line environment should be surrounded by discussion groups, commentaries, links to related sites and all the panoply of digital media. A book in this sense, no matter what its provenance, is a living thing: it grows over time as more and more and more people connect to it. Ultimately the book becomes a constellation of connected information with significantly enhanced value over the printed volume."
They might not agree, but at least it will give them something to reflect on.