|I bequeathed my old computer to my parents and signed them up for an AOL
account. After teaching Dad the basics no, you don't have to lift the mouse into
the air to move the cursor to the top of the screen I tried to answer his questions
"See that little arrow-thingie on the screen? That's called a cursor," says I.
"Why?" says he.
I'd never faced a question that basic. "Uhm . . . because you swear when it does something you don't want?"
I finally fell back onto analogies, though as someone who makes a living as a person who puts words on paper I was uncomfortable telling him how the Byte Fairies ride the big yellow System Bus to Hard Drive Heaven and Whizzer, the CPU clock speed-demon, builds all of the bits on the screen really, really fast so the great computer controller, uh, Kong, makes the programs work.
He seemed skeptical.
Finally, he asked: "What is the Internet?"
I could tell him how it was developed by universities with Department of Defense contracts so they could move information around and how it grew to a national and international computer network, but that would be like explaining the Otto internal combustion cycle to my dog. Not that my dad isn't smart, it was just that he had no basic references. And, whereas my dog may give me a quizzical look while I explained adiabatic cooling, I think my dad bites.
The Internet, I told him, was like a free telephone system for computers. We both weren't satisfied by that.
Later that night I came up with what I think is the perfect description: It's an ocean of knowledge an inch deep. It's breadth is amazing, as is its lack of depth.
Using search engines, it's possible to troll the Worldwide Web for any topic and find someone out there in cyberspace who has a web page dedicated to that subject. They may not be what you want, but by HAL, there'll be millions of them. For instance, I did a search for concrete contractors in Cleveland, Ohio: 1,894,802 hits. If that were true, then each man, woman, and child, in the city would own 2.52 concrete contracting licenses. I rounded the number off, by the way.
Since neither my wife nor I was a concrete contractor or perhaps she's hiding something from me the per-capita number must be even higher, probably up near 2.5201.
I admit, I didn't go through more than 3,000 hits before I realized I wasn't asking the right question. Too many responses were about Cleveland sports teams. I refined my search. Instead of using "Cleveland" as a search word, I used "216," the area code. The numbers dropped drastically, down to only 80,528 hits. Wow, the power and wonder of electric cypherin' machines!
Near the top of this list was the Turkish Contractors Association and Union of International Contractors. If I were interested in hiring a contractor from them to pour my driveway I could call Ahmet Mithat Efendi Sok. 21/3 Çankaya 06550 Ankara Tel: 439 17 12-13 Fax : 440 02 53.
Hmm, would the work gang want falafels for lunch? I didn't call because I could see winged bags of money flapping away like startled pigeons when I imagined the cost of transatlantic transport of cement mixers.
And, what kind of address is 21/3 Çankaya? Shouldn't that be 7 Çankaya?
Being as lazy as before, I didn't search through more than 90 or a 100 hits before I realized that the Web was not the medium most used by concrete finishers. It seems that the majority of people who go out and make things for a living don't spend a lot of time coaxing electrons to bang into phosphors so that the most sophisticated computer network in history can make ants dance across the screen to hype movies created by other computers making electrons . . . well, you get the picture.
While there is a lot of valuable knowledge on the Internet, as computer columnist Jerry Pournelle half-jokingly says, "The Internet is a conspiracy to see how many grown people can be made to stare at screens on which nothing is happening."
Even less kindly, the Internet, like much of our modern world, adheres to Simak's Law, which I'll paraphrase from science fiction author Clifford Simak's more robust statement: "Ninety percent of everything is crap."