Addicted to the World Wide Wait

Computer Life column for 3/1/97 by
Richard Gordon


This week's column was supposed to be about some of the cool Web sites I've visited over the past month.

I set aside Sunday afternoon, let my son invite a friend over, blithely thinking I'd just check my notes on the Web sites I'd picked while the boys played downstairs.

What happened next is an example of why I love and loathe the Net--simultaneously.

Hit a snag at the first site.

My copy of RealAudio, popular software that lets you hear sounds and live radio broadcasts over the Net, had expired. I had to download a new copy from www.realaudio.com.

No problem, I thought. Should take ten or fifteen minutes to grab it. So I started the download and left the room.

Five minutes later, I only had 7 percent of the file.

Over and over, I repeated the process of busying myself, then returning to check the download.

I literally had time to sort the socks and fold the T-shirts and sweat pants from yesterday's laundry, let the dogs in, rescue the laundry basket from its fate as some part of a medieval battle royale involving every toy in my son's play room, gather up and sort more laundry, start another load, put the lunch dishes into the dishwasher, pay some bills, refill the dogs' water bowl, strip the beds, and write the first several paragraphs of this column.

Seventy-eight percent of the file had downloaded.

Unreasonable expectations

I am not a Luddite, a nay-sayer who believes that new technology is evil.

On the contrary: I can't begin to count the cool and useful things I've found on the Web or the fascinating and productive relationships I've built with colleagues and friends across the US, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and even Africa.

What annoys me is how the marketing and advertising world has raised most people's Internet expectations beyond what is reasonable and realistic.

Watch TV and see commercials that imply school children are routinely computing around the globe, regardless of their physical location.

Those ads in which a variety of photogenic people of all colors smile and complete each other's sentences seamlessly as if the Net let them think with one mind are particularly insidious.

And remember how annoying it was when the elves tried to convince Santa that IBM's technology would let him relocate to the tropics?

Hmm. 92 percent of my file is here now.

Coming soon: ????

The Internet and proprietary corporate networks are already an integral part of the global information economy. And the Net is an enormous part of my daily life. Every day I browse up and down the virtual aisles of the Web, sampling bits of information here, following up a lead there.

But it's a fragile process.

The technology is still relatively expensive, hard to use, and breaks fairly often. For example, I have browsed Land's End's electronic catalog (www.landsend.com) with ease. But the last time I tried to buy pants from them over the Web, I got bogged down, gave up, and called their 800 number.

97 percent downloaded.

Improved telecommunications technology is coming to the Net and to our desktops. But don't buy a super high-speed modem (56,000 bps or faster) this week. No matter what any modem maker's TV ad leads you to believe, the industry hasn't agreed on a standard yet.

It's not even certain who will bring the higher speed connection into your home: a phone company? a cable TV system? Someone else?

In short, I love the Net, but get frustrated when a Web session leaves me wallowing in Net sludge instead of skimming breathlessly over waves of Really Cool Stuff.

Oh, goody. My file is done downloading. What's this? It wants me to install the software and re-boot?

Guess I'll load the sheets and towels into the washing machine.


Copyright © 1997, The News Journal Company

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Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to richard@inet.net, or write him at The News Journal, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. Although each note cannot be answered individually, reader comments and questions will often be incorporated in future columns.