Editor’s Note: Who reading this can remember life before the Internet? 1995 feels in some ways like it was much less than 21 years ago, but this gem of an article from the archives of the Irish Voice newspaper reminds us of just how different our day-to-day lives are now.
These clips from "The Today Show" give a good reminder of how skeptical people were about the (at that point) still new invention (“What is the Internet anyway?”).
Irish Voice reporter Colin Lacey, relatively new to the World Wide Web himself at that point, compiled a guide for readers on what the Internet was, how to use it, and the best places to find information about Ireland or connect with fellow Irish “on-liners,” or "Netnicks."
Prepare yourself for a serious throwback:
You can run, but you can't hide, from the Internet.
It's out there, skulking behind computer monitors in homes and offices across the globe, lurking in the telephone lines, linking computers in every corner of the planet with just the flick of a button.
At least 30 million people in 160 countries have access to it. Time magazine recently devoted a whole issue to it. There are half a dozen monthly magazines covering it. There are television programs, radio shows, thousands of books and magazine articles, and, coming soon to a neighborhood near you, there's a string of cafes selling half-hour blocks of Internet access to accompany your coffee and bagel.
It's everywhere, and everyone from Al Gore to Courtney Love is talking about it. But what exactly is 'it?' And, just as importantly, why should we care?
Simply put, the Internet (the "Net," to its close, personal friends) is a vast network of millions of computers and computer users across the globe, all interconnected so that any computer can 'talk' to and access services and information offered by another.
More precisely, the Net is comprised of the physical network, the people who use it, and the services and facilities available on it.
At the end of last year, there were over 3.5· million computers on-line, with annual growth rates estimated as high as 84 percent, a figure even the most naively optimistic businessman wouldn't even dare dream of.
So, what does it do?
Well, enough to fill a whole library, really, but among the most widely-used Internet facilities are electronic mail, better known as email, which allows a user to transmit instantaneously a letter, document, or computer file to any computer on the Internet. It can be cheaper than regular mail ("snail mail," as Net devotees refer to it), and with over 130 countries accessible, there's no big surprise that this is the most widely used Internet facility.
Mailing lists/newsgroups enable subscribers to automatically send or receive electronic newsletters or requested information or partake in group discussions about . . . well, absolutely anything.
On-line conversations are like email, but the messages are transmitted and received "live" with other users on specified topics. The 1990s version of CB radio, complete with code names, on-line vernacular, and rules of behavior ("Netiquette").
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) allows users to hook into bazillions of computer sites around the world, dip into available files and transfer them to their own computers for personal use. You name it, you can FTP it over the Net: computer games, newspaper articles, museum exhibits, photographs, complete books, etc.
There are many other facilities on the Net, and only obsessive, round-the-clock Netniks know their way around, or even use, half of them. The fastest-growing sector of the Net is the World Wide Web (WWW, or just "the Web"), which sounds like a villain in a "Spiderman" comic, but is actually a method of bringing information to your computer in a combination of text, graphics, sound, and video – something techies call 'hypertext' format. It's marked as the future of the Internet, so you'll be hearing a lot about it in the future. It's also the facility that allows easiest access to online services originating in Ireland.
But what does it all mean to you?
The Internet is really about communication and information, and enthusiasts of even the most bizarre, esoteric subjects are almost certain to ferret out and communicate with like-minded users without much difficulty on the Net.
In the months since I first took a tentative leap into the world of cyberspace (and if I can do it, anyone can – a Swiss Army knife is about as high-tech as I can usually handle), I've come upon a wide range of on-line Irish areas, sites and services, many of which I now look up on a daily basis.
There is a growing Irish community on the Net, on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond. Armed with a computer, a modem, and a telephone line, there’s nothing to stop you from hooking up, logging on, and joining the online craic.
The following is a rough guide to what you're missing if you're not yet caught in the Net. Remember though, there are so many different ways to connect and search out Irish topics that this is only a partial selection of what's floating around out there; there's probably a whole lot more I haven't stumbled onto yet.
America On-Line (AOL): This claims to be the largest on-line service in the country, and if you know where to look, offers a strong selection of Irish-related sites and topics.
News buffs should check out the News Search facility, which searches the major U.S. papers and wire services for items on any topic you specify. On the day I am writing this, Saturday, April 1, for example, over 150 articles from the past month are linked to the topic "Ireland," including lots of sports-related items (rugby, soccer, horse racing, boxing, etc.), news of the latest Stephen Rea movie, and a review of "Circle of Friends" from Variety magazine. You can narrow the search to a more specific topic, such as "Sinn Fein," or "Mary Robinson," and if the keyword was featured in a story over the past few weeks, you can pull the whole article up to your computer screen, print it, and save it on a disk.
Users who just want to connect with other Irish on-liners can select keyword "The Exchange" to enter AOL's Communities Center, where you’ll find an area designed especially for Americans of European Descent. Within this group is a sub-category, "Things Irish," which is essentially a discussion group in bulletin board format that allows users to post messages or read correspondence from Irish enthusiasts across the country. Recent discussions include Irish dancing and the success of the 'Riverdance' video, but you can leap in with a message about anything. Others will read it and respond.
AOL permits only limited Internet access (a fuller service is promised for the coming months), but it’s user-friendly graphics make what is available easy to use, especially for novices. In the AOL Internet area, you can search and select News Groups to receive all Internet messages on specified topics.
This is one of the best things about the Net – you can receive correspondence from anywhere in the world on topics you select yourself. Look out for the Ireland National Newsgroup, which over the last few weeks has featured lively, topical discussions on Gerry Adams and Anglophobia, the Easter Rising, James Joyce's Bloomsday, and Irish Jews, along with a host of inquiries and announcements. Ireland General is a secondary news group, which, the last time I looked, featured a request for a brown bread recipe from someone who "ate it constantly when in Ireland."
There are also at least three U2 newsgroups, generating up to 200 messages a day. Stay away, though, unless you’re a die-hard U2 nut – all these feature mostly drivel from fans obsessing about lyrics and whether the group will ever tour again. Clannad, too, have a group, but I’ve yet to find a message posted. Other groups of interest cover Traditional Music, Celtic Society and Culture, and Gaelic Society and Culture – check the Search All Newsgroups category to subscribe.
You can also use AOL to get a trial subscription to the Irish Emigrant, a Galway0based weekly online newspaper for emigrants. Published every Monday and directed at Irish expatriates, the Irish Emigrant features a roundup of the week’s major news stories in Ireland, and covers sports, business, the arts, and lots more. Issues I’ve seen are approximately 12 – 14 pages long, and come without graphics or illustration.
But the real Irish action on the Internet is available via the World Wide Web (WWW), which, among other things, allows uses to plug directly into the facilities coming out of Ireland. There are actually quite a number of Irish-based services to choose from, which is not surprising given the country’s high rate of computer literacy, and the facilities are expanding every day.
Cork Internet Services, part of the EUnet organization, offers an enormous database of things Irish , including, notably, a range of catalogs and brochures from Irish businesses with an eye on the world market. Marketing over the Internet is an infant science, but one that is sure to grow in the next few years, so it’s well worth checking out what it’s like right now, while it still has a sort of pioneering air. Also from EUnet, a leisure and entertainment section (still under construction), and – a must for journalists or anyone doing research on Ireland – a database of Irish Times back issues from 1994 and 1995, searchable by month, day, and newspaper section.
EUnet also offers a ‘virtual Irish pub’ called Ulysses, a tourism section with hotel and sightseeing details, and a ‘jobs wanted and offered’ section. Don’t go rushing into that, though – last time I looked, there were no jobs available, and apparently nobody wanted one either.
EUnet is the longest established on-line service, but it’s experiencing tight competition from a number of relative newcomers. One of the biggest and best of the newer services is Ireland OnLine. Jacking in gives users access to a diverse range of options, including “Hot Press on the Net,” the online edition of Ireland’s Hot Press magazine. Ireland OnLine (IOL) features a full color photograph from the current Hot Press issue and makes it easy for readers to hook in to articles, news, music reviews and charts. A listing of what’s available from previous issues is also featured, and articles can be retrieved, printed and saved.
There’s also the IOL Marketplace – a market guide to Irish Goods and services through which users around the world can window-shop for Irish goods and services, or order from the on-line catalog of over 25,000 books.
There's also an environmental notice board and a section where prospective tourists can sniff out the best deals on accommodation, travel etc. IOL features a 'What's On' guide covering the whole country, plus genealogical information, Gaelic games and sports information, the on-line version of the Irish American Post (a Milwaukee-based newspaper) and a huge resource called the Irish Emigrant Archives, which holds current and back issues of The Irish Emigrant, searchable by date and topic.
Many Internet users in Ireland are on-line via universities and colleges (computer departments often have free access for students), and some college computer societies have set up their own facilities on the Net. Skynet, from the University of Limerick Computer Society is one of the most easily accessible. It's pretty much a wasted resource, though. It's student-operated, which means you have to put up with lots of "funny" user names and requests for the notes for Second Year Engineering lectures, for example, but if you persevere (I didn't), there's probably much of interest in the Comics, Guitar, Aviation, and 'Tori Amos’ sites.
Not to be outdone, the Trinity College math department also has its own service, the EFI guide. I haven’t had a chance to see it, but don’t let that stop you. The WWW address for EFI is www.maths.tcd.ie
It’s only three weeks old, seems clunky and unsophisticated in places, and it’s got an unfortunate, poorly-conceived name, but PaddyNet, Ireland’s first on-line, interactive magazine, has the potential and the scope to become one of the best reasons to join the cyberspace community.
Divided into four separate sections, PaddyNet is a regularly-updated, online resource that uses text, video, sound, graphics and photographs to illustrate its articles, making one of the most ambitious services available, in Ireland or anywhere.
The Create section is dedicated to all things creative; the current Paddy New ‘issue’ includes articles on a new Irish record label, the artist Willie Doherty (with a selection of his work), Irish architecture, and allows further exploration of the Irish fashion, music and art worlds. In the music section, there’s a feature on the latest Irish next-big-thing, a band by the name of Revelino, and you can even hear a snippet of one of their songs. Literature buffs can sneak exclusive extracts from new novels, and fashion plates can preview the latest collection from designers like John Rocha.
The Distract section is the PaddyNet entertainment area. On-liners can experience “Virtual Blarney” in a bar setting and listen to a session by the Bothy Band, while discovering the history of some of the country’s most famous pubs or reviewing the huge selection of sports-related features related features (including soccer, Gaelic, hurling, boxing, swimming and – really – bear baiting).
The Connect section is PaddyNet's email facility; users can send mail or talk live with other on-liners, and a Green Pages of Irish Internet sources is promised for the future.
But the most fascinating aspect of Paddy Net is the Island, an interactive tour of Ireland which cross-references sources and articles on literature, history, folklore, mythology, and the natural world.
Reading an article on the history of Newgrange, for example, certain references (Yeats,
say) will be highlighted on the screen. This means they’re “hot,” or interactive, and users can choose to continue with the article on Newgrange or take a diversion down the path of the Yeats reference, which might lead to articles on his life and poetry, which in tum might offer diversions into Irish history and mythology.
Depending on the references you choose to follow, no two tours of PaddyNet's Island will be the same, making it not just a valuable educational reference facility, but an entertaining one also.
There's a whole world of other Irish diversions on PaddyNet, and if the service fulfills its promise to continue developing its service (and updating its articles regularly), there's a high probability it will become an essential on-line visiting point.
Given the proper equipment, there are no real boundaries on the information superhighway, and the possibilities for entertainment, information and education, Irish and otherwise, are virtually limitless.
Of course, chances are once you hook up, you’ll spend far, far more time than you really should frozen at your computer like a rabbit in a headlight. Other things in your life, like eating, sleep and Actual Human Contact may decline in importance – but hey, the Internet is one of the last frontiers; who wants to sleep while it's there, waiting to be conquered?
Check it out soon, before our Big Brothers regulate all the fun out of it.
What do you remember about using the Internet for the first time? Did you visit any of the sites mentioned in the article? Share your memories in the comment section, below.