Hang ups

27th September 1996 at 01:00
A reader has e-mailed me to say that he has tracked down my site on the World Wide Web. This is a truly monumental achievement - because I don't have a site on the World Wide Web.

I know that Research Machines has enabled hundreds of schools to colonise their own small corners of cyberspace and that a growing number of service providers offer subscribers the opportunity to create their own home pages, but I had no recollection of ever having taken advantage of any such opportunity. You wouldn't forget something like that: learning HTML (the code for writing Web pages); selecting hotspots; filling the allotted half-a- megabyte with blurry pictures and sundry pearls of wisdom.

Just to make sure, I keyed "Arnold Evans" into Lycos, the powerful search engine. And within seconds it had found Arnold's Home Page. The first sentence was unequivocal. "This is the one and only official Arnold Evans Home Page!" A spooky experience, I can assure you. This is Scully and Mulder territory.

It's not easy to come to terms with the awesome knowledge that there is an alternative you - a virtual alter ego - strutting his stuff in the ether. It caused each particular hair to stand on end like quills upon a fretful porpetine. Could this Arnold Evans be the one the library are nagging to return Dombey and Son? The one who went berserk with the plastic in HMV? The one who allegedly authorised an independent financial adviser to call at the house in the middle of EastEnders?

It was only when I began reading the views expressed on the Web page that it slowly dawned on me that this Arnold Evans was not yours truly. My doppelganger, who I discovered lives in Dallas, is strong on capital punishment - and keen that, to make it a truly effective deterrent, other prisoners should be compelled to witness the executions.

He advocates major cuts in welfare and "hefty taxes on illegitimate births". He's so right-wing, he could almost be in Mr Blair's shadow Cabinet. It was with a sigh of relief that I found that he had one view with which I could totally agree. It's his explanation of why he has gone to the bother of setting up a Web site: "Anyone can say anything on the Internet. Frankly, that's why I have this page. I figure I might as well have my two cents in before this place gets too crowded."

At the moment, the Internet offers all of us who have access to a computer and modem the unique opportunity to transmit our views to the four corners of the world. This might not make the world a better place, but we will feel better for having had our two cents' worth.

It's a mistake - and one that educationists tend to make - to think of the Internet as merely being a reservoir of free resources. It's seen as another branch of the broadcasting industry, and inevitably this entails that pupils are, yet again, cast in the role of passive consumers.

In fact, the Internet's real educational value is that it enables pupils to have their say - to express themselves in a way that will resonate beyond the narrow confines of the classroom or playground. If you want your voice to be heard by as many people as possible, the Internet sure beats having a poem in the school magazine or some graffiti on the wall of the bicycle shed.

My namesake is right when he foresees that the Internet is going to get too crowded. We should all be setting up our cyber soapboxes before it's too late. But if there are any more of you out there called Arnold Evans, would you kindly consider changing your name?

u The real Arnold Evans is at: arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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