Hang Ups

5th January 1996 at 00:00
My telephone number might be ex-directory but people only have to ask and I'll willingly give them my address. My electronic mail address, that is. Actually, I often give it to people even when they don't ask; sometimes, indeed, when they beg me not to. In fact, I make a point of cunningly diverting all conversation to the subject of the Internet in order to do so. People are genuinely fascinated. I can tell from that dreamy far-away look in their eyes, and the involuntary gasps of astonishment which they sometimes try to disguise as yawns.

Occasionally a listener will say something such as: "I think the Internet is for sad little losers who can't get a life. So please crawl off and leave me alone." What they really mean, of course, is: "I am a technophobe, secretly desperate to know more, but worried about appearing foolish in the eyes of a cyberdude such as yourself." A friendly smile and a hearty chuckle is usually enough to put them at their ease. Then I tell them everything I know about the Internet, remembering to enliven my exposition with amusing anecdotes pertaining to my own zany adventures on the World Wide Web.

Needless to say, after an hour or so - doesn't time fly? - they can hardly contain their excitement. "Please, please, don't tell me any more," they beg. "If I solemnly promise you that I buy a modem and get one of these address things of my own, would you go away and talk to someone else? Please?" I happily do, of course, always ready to persuade more people to take the plunge and "buy a one-way ticket to Tomorrowsville" - it's a phrase I like to use to prove to people that having an impressive e-mail address doesn't necessarily make one a fuddy-duddy.

If I'm an evangelist for the Internet, it isn't because I want to convince anyone that it is a Good Thing. To be honest, I'm not altogether sure that it is. But I am sure that it's too important to be ignored. It's no good basing an opinion on what other people say about the Internet - and certainly not on the nonsense published in newspapers and magazines. There's no alternative but to join the cyberdudes.

This is particularly true for teachers, because the major political parties are adamant that schools are to be linked to the information superhighway. Unfortunately most politicians don't know a thing about it. I've seen gaggles of them on television waxing lyrical about the educational benefits of the telecommunications revolution, and then admitting with a giggle that they have no personal experience of going on-line. Of course, they are the very people who will be making the decisions about the role of the superhighway in schools. If other educational "reforms" are anything to go by, the chances are the whole project is going to be a hilarious chapter of botches, bungles and boo-boos.

Hilarious, that is, for those of us sitting on the sidelines smirking, but not for the teachers who will be faced with having to make the best of a bad job. They need to make their voices heard now - but they'll have nothing to contribute unless they first become, to use a favourite phrase of the government's, "network literate".

It sounds daunting and indeed once upon a time it was. But nowadays with the right service provider and user-friendly software the only real headache new users need suffer will come from reading the phone bill. They'll also find, if my experience is anything to go by, that people will tend to hide behind furniture whenever they try to talk to them. Fortunately, there's always someone on the Internet who is willing to listen. My Internet address, by the way, is arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk.

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