I wish I could tell you all of the wonderful internet stories I know; the couple who met on the net and are now happily married; the man who lost all of his possessions in a disastrous fire and got the support of many people he'd never met; the woman who got expert advice on her beloved, ailing cat from a perfect stranger, just because she asked. Those stories are not mine, but they illustrate the most wonderful thing about the net.
The net allows people to connect to people according to their interests, even though they may be seperated by distance, or schedule, or economic status.
That's the wonderful thing about the net. It's about people connecting to people. An amazing infrastructure has been created that allows people to connect that would never be able to otherwise.
Story #1I was having problems in my job as the computer manager for a small architectural firm in Philadelphia: I was (as usual) getting very conflicting reports from various vendors about what hardware my boss ought to spend his next $50,000 on. I was new to the net; nobody knew me, but I asked a question, and within hours, got an answer from a programmer who happened to work for the company that sells the software we used. With that information, I was able to save the firm $20,000.
Story #2I was working on a letter to the editor. Over the net, I connected with someone, an expert on the subject, who helped me with the technical aspects, and offered valuable editorial advice to boot. The letter, of course was accepted for publication.
Story #3I floated the idea of doing something silly with some of my net-friends for the city-wide New Years party that Boston has. Before I knew what was happening; hundreds of people around the world were participating in "Cyberfoo: First Night in Cyberspace", from places as diverse as NYC's Grand Central Station ballroom dancing party to backstage at a rock concert in Copenhagen.
Story #4I moved from Philadelphia, PA to Ithaca, NY. "Why not?", I thought, since I can keep in touch with 10,000 friends no matter where I live. It took me a week or so to get the telephone and computer setup necessary to reconnect. "I missed you all, it's good to be back!" I said.
"Welcome home" was the first reply. In a new town, where I knew almost nobody, it was a lovely, comforting thought.
(Ever since that, I've thought that GI's ought to get a cheap, small computer and an internet account as a part of basic training. Imagine what it would do for morale if they could keep in touch with their friends and family, whether they were in Fort Bragg or Somalia or Bosnia.)
Story #5While I was in Ithaca, a terrible thing happened: a friendly, always-cheerful man who worked in the same building was murdered, brutally. I had to scream somewhere, and I screamed on the net. A writer I knew online but had never met said: "Peace on you, Alan." Four kind words. Four kind words that made a world of difference.
Story #6Holiday season. College town, and nobody's home, noplace to go. Online, there was a silly, glorious punfest, playing a sort of a verbal game of tag and scrabble and hide-and-seek over several venues. Good thing everyone was out of town, I was laughing so loud. Wish I had a transcript of that Thanksgiving. It was the most fun I had alone in a long time. But I wasn't alone at all.
There's a currency of information, a currency of compassion, a currency of play. We cast our bread upon the waters by going on the net. Often we just get back soggy bread, or worse. But just as often we get a thousandfold return.
What makes the net work is that people can connect with others about whatever is important to them, at any time, as they, and they alone decide. It's the first time in the history of mankind that this has been possible. A scary thought: people can talk to each other about anything at all, any time they want. But it's because people can talk to anybody about anything at any time that it works.
It's unlikely that the woman I helped with horticultural advice for her Japanese maple will be the same person who helps me with whatever my next problem is. That doesn't matter. You contribute to the community, the community gives back. It's a wonderful thing.