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by Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead, with a foreword by Jean C. Monty President and CEO of Northern Telecom Ltd. Prentice Hall Canada Inc., Scarborough ON, 1994

Book Review by David W. McFadden

Mike Tyson, the boxing champ, says he only ever used to read boxing magazines. But, since being incarcerated on a rape conviction, he's learned to "appreciate the classics." Apparently, according to the London Times, he's been reading Tennessee Williams and Homer, certainly a formidable match.

Personally, I've never been caught, er, I mean imprisoned, except of course for the psychological prison most of us find ourselves trapped in from time to time, if not all the time. But, if I'm ever thrown into a real prison, I sure hope it's got a good library. The wonderful thing about jail, at least in my fantasies, is that you sure have a lot of time to read. Let's get our priorities straight: who can honestly say he or she would like to die without having read all of Tennessee Williams, all of Homer, all of Dickens, Saul Bellow, Shakespeare, Michael Ondaatje and on and on? It's hard to imagine.

Oops, sorry ladies. I should add to my list; let's see now, how about Jane Austen, Barbara Gowdy, Carol Shields, and Camille Paglia ...

Yet, whenever I try to talk to otherwise intelligent people about what I've been reading lately, and what they've been reading, something strange happens. Generally, there's a tone of envy in their voices, and they complain that they don't have the time to read. And these are highly intelligent people, university professors, lawyers, authors, media analysts, anchor men, professional pugilists. No time to read. Whew! Talk about bad management of time.

Sometimes, they look at me as though I were some kind of despicable, disgusting degenerate, because I have actually set up my life in such a way that I have a lot of time to read a lot of books. They have weightier obligations, their lives are taken up with far nobler duties than the self-indulgent reading of books.

Here's the big joke: turns out most of them spend four or five hours a day surfing the Internet.

Friends, I have spent many hours reading books, and I have also spent many hours surfing the Internet. Believe me, reading books is better. I don't regret one moment reading books, but, as for surfing the Internet, I guess I sort of had to do it to find out how dull it is, how profitless, how pointless, and what a terrible waste of precious time that could be much better used reading books.

The very word "surfing" is not a word I would use. "Surfing" implies ecstasy, waves, thrills and chills. There is little of that sort of thing on the Internet. "Trudging through mud" would be a more accurate image.

It's true, there is a lot of information on the Internet. Sometimes I think there is more information about the Internet (as in the current book about to be discussed) than there is on the Internet, but that's another subject entirely. There is a lot of information on the Internet and it's growing all the time.

But a lot of this information isn't very accurate.

A lot of this information isn't properly attributed.

A lot of this information is just a bunch of partially informed people, with a lot of time on their hands, yacking away and .trying to make an impression.

Here's a tip for people who require information:

If it's not in Sources, check the public library.

If it's not in the public library, check the university library.

If it's not in the university library, hire somebody to track it down on the Internet.

Do not, repeat not, under any circumstance get involved in the Internet yourself. Entering Cyberspace is like entering a great black hole on the other side of the galaxy. When you return, you will feel like Rip Van Winkle. You will not remember where you have been or what you have been doing. You will wonder where your life went. You will have to die without having read all those wonderful books. And so on.

In format, the Canadian Internet Handbook (with a foreword by President Jean Monty) is a lot like the much better-known Internet Companion (with a foreword by Vice-President Al Gore). Looks like, but is actually twice as thick.

Target audience for the Handbook is apparently composed of those people who are about to get hooked up to the Internet, but still haven't done so. Once you get hooked up, the need for any of these books decreases dramatically. Most, if not all, of what you need in terms of a guide to the Internet can be found on the Internet itself.

But more than half of the Canadian Internet Handbook is devoted to something that is much more interesting than a mere guide to getting hooked up: it's a series of Canadian Internet directories. And it would conceivably continue to be useful long after the novice has mastered the kindergarten techniques of logging in, sending and receiving e-mail, joining mailing lists and discussion groups and slogging through the genera! mud of our Brave (But Deadly Dull) New Global Electronic Society Village of the Twenty-first Century.

First off is the Directory of Canadian Internet Service Providers. This is subdivided, province by province, with a section devoted to providers who operate in more than one province, followed by a section devoted to U.S. providers with local access numbers in Canada (we wouldn't want one of those now, would we?).

This is followed by a Directory of Community Networking Organizations in Canada. There aren't very many of these, only three actually, one in each of Trail, Victoria and Ottawa. Several others are set to go through, including the Toronto Free-Net and others that haven't even been named yet, and these are listed as well.

Then, we have the Directory of Gopher Services and Campus-Wide Information Systems in Canada. There are tons of these, and they are all listed. Correct me if I'm wrong, however: it would appear to me that all these Gopher addresses, etc., aren't really necessary, because when you access one Gopher site you thereby have access to all the Gopher sites in the world. Oh well.

There's also a list of Canadian libraries with online public access catalogues. And, a directory of Canadian World Wide Web, Archie and Internet Relay Chat servers. Then, we have a list of 507 Canadian Usenet "newsgroups" (actually more like little social groups), of which, the more interesting ones seem to be, let's see now, how about: can.ai (artificial intelligence in Canada); kw.birthdays (happy birthday in Kitchener-Waterloo); ut.chinese (University of Toronto Chinese community), and the ever-popular ont.personals.whips.and.rubber.chickens list.

The first half of the book is basically the two authors explaining how to use the Internet, and doing a lot of flag-waving for the Internet ("Information highways are currently a very hot topic!").

The authors have managed to come up with five reasons under the heading "Why Should You Use the Internet," but none of the five is all that convincing, and they do tend to overlap.

Their writing style is not all that intimidating. If you are not put off by such lines as "What the Polar Bear Heaven lacks in numbers it makes up for in enthusiasm" or "a new childrens [sic] video that was selling like hotcakes in the U.S." - well then, you might just be ready for the Internet!!!!

Probably, the most intelligent part of the book is Jean Monty's foreword. With lines like "Interet is an idea whose time is now," it's not entirely without embarrassment. But you gotta give him points for literacy and nationalist fervour. In a very short piece, he manages to mention Canadian authors Marshall McLuhan, George Grant, Harold Innis, B.W. Powe and William Gibson.

Not only that he identifies them.
And he spells their names right.

He also quotes Canadian novelist W.P. Kinsella, though he stops short of actually mentioning him by name.

And he gives us a nice juicy quote from the Financial Times of London: "The Internet global network is leading the way down the information highway."

Oh, and by the way, when you buy (or otherwise get hold of) a copy of this book, it comes with a $20 "New User Discount from participating Internet Service Providers." But, you gotta hurry: it's only valid to June 30, 1994.

Hey, it's only two o'clock. I think I'll go down to the library for the rest the afternoon.

David W. McFadden is a Toronto-based writer.


Published in Sources, Summer 1994


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