A LONG LOOK BACK AT THE INTERNET EXPERIMENT

A LONG LOOK BACK AT THE INTERNET EXPERIMENT

Grandpa, what was the Internet?

Oh, that was long ago, in the last century. It was something invented by people called nerds.NERDS?

They were nice people. I knew some of them when I went to college. They started with something called computers. At first they used the computers only for themselves, so it didn't bother anybody.

COMPUTERS?

We'll go to the museum someday and you can see one. It was a box with sort of a window in it, and it came with a tray of buttons, one for each letter of the alphabet. And it also had a bunch of funny buttons.

I remember there was one button that had ''esc'' written on it, and another one that said ''pause break,'' and others that said ''alt'' and ''ctrl.'' And then there were a lot of buttons with names like F1 and F2, all the way up to F12.

HOW STRANGE. WHAT WERE THEY FOR?

The nerds knew, but no one else understood. But it didn't matter until the nerds said everyone had to get a computer, and if you didn't, you wouldn't be able to get a job and your kids would grow up stupid and be poor. And the president and everyone who wanted to be president said everyone needed a computer.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Most people bought computers and tried to learn how to use them. It was very hard. But every year, as soon as they learned a little bit, the nerds made new computers and things for the computers and told people the old ones were no good anymore. And the nerds got very rich. One of them became the richest man in world.

But people still had trouble using the computers. So, the nerds wrote what they called books for dummies that explained how to use them. I remember I bought one.

BUT, GRANDPA, YOU'RE NOT A DUMMY.

Well, people learned a little bit, and then the nerds invented the Internet.

WHAT DID IT DO?

It made words and pictures go from one computer to another. And the nerds said that the government and doctors and everyone should keep their records in computers, and send them back and forth over the Internet. They said if you didn't use the Internet, you wouldn't be able to get a job and your kids would grow up stupid and be poor.

They said people shouldn't go to stores to shop - instead they should look at pictures on their computers and buy everything from the Internet. So all the people with computers got the Internet, and it was in homes, schools, libraries, offices, hospitals. But there were a lot of problems.

LIKE WHAT, GRANDPA?

Well, little nerds - kids your age - stopped doing homework, because they could get it from the Internet. And they learned how to steal big secrets from the Army, and the generals got very angry. And mean people learned how to get other people's private information about their health and their money from the Internet.

Some people got weird about the Internet, and spent most of their time looking at it and sending messages to strangers. The nerds said there were viruses, like sickness, that could eat up everything inside the computer, and people got very worried. The police arrested people for sending scary messages on the Internet or for stealing stuff.

There was a lot of confusion and worry. But it was too late. Everything was in computers and on the Internet. Then, the nerds said they had made a big mistake.

WHAT WAS THE MISTAKE?

Well, they said that when the year 2000 began, on the very first minute, all the computers in the world would break unless people spent billions and billions of dollars to fix them.

If the computers broke, there would be no electricity or water. Trains would stop running and airplanes would crash. They said that the computers might even tell countries to go to war with each other unless they got fixed. You see, by then, computers decided almost everything, even about going to war.

BUT I THOUGHT THE NERDS WERE SMART.

So did everyone else. Everyone was scared, and didn't know what do. So they gave the nerds billions and billions of dollars to fix the computers.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The world got by OK. But after that, more and more people got so mad at computers that they said they would live without them.

Some people tried it and it worked fine. And then millions of people held computer bonfires and smashing parties. Stores and businesses put up signs saying, ''No Computer, No Internet.''

THEN WHAT HAPPENED?

President Gates said they were making a big mistake. But people had had enough.

- Copyright 1999, Daniel S. Greenberg