Musings on the Future
Despite all the talk about the information super highway, this Internet thing started, for me, when my wife came home from her graduate course in Old English. “I’m supposed to log on to some discussion group on a computer network,” she said. Having used computers as a tool in my art work and teaching for a number of years, this caught my attention. “It’s called the Anglo-Saxon network and it’s on something called the Internet. I thought you might be able to figure out how I could do it from home since we have a computer and I wouldn’t have to drive in and use theirs.”
Such was my introduction to the Internet, and in the course of figuring out how to connect (which I did), I learned a great deal about the possibilities that are waiting to be tapped.
Many people have heard of Compuserve, America On Line, and Prodigy. Not as well known but vastly bigger in size and resources, the Internet stretches to all the continents (Antarctica too) and links over ten million users to libraries of data, research and academic facilities, and most importantly, each other.
What can this mean to metalsmithing and SNAG? Well, let’s take the first thing that made me aware of the Internet: the discussion group mailing lists. Although discussion groups function though the use of e-mail, it facilitates group and interactive communication of a group much better than exchanging addresses, much like we do each year at conferences. Made possible by a software program called a “listserv”, a group of people (i.e. metalsmiths?) subscribe to the list by sending in their e-mail address to the listserv. The size of the list can vary from 20 to 10,000. It is understood that the topics of discussion are to be limited to things such as techniques, materials, show and exhibition announcements, job openings, etceteras. Someone in the group posts a message (question, request for information, show announcement, etceteras.) to the listserv and the posting is automatically distributed to everyone on the list in a matter of minutes! Someone else checking their e-mail, minutes after it was posted, might have the answer or a response and post it a short time later. It’s not uncommon for me to check my e-mail several times a day and find a number of messages each time. That is why they are called discussion groups. Apart from the lack of face to face contact, the effect is not much different from being at a conference and asking someone a question. They may or may not know the answer, but they may know who to ask and that person is probably standing in the next room. That’s the point, the Internet allows for conference accessibility to the membership at any time.
If that’s not enough, these groups usually keep records and pertinent information on file severs accessible to anyone with access to the Internet. A list of that information is normally available through the listserv as well. Imagine SNAG technical information, postings of workshops, and even image collections available to any member with a computer and modem. (In the last survey it was reported that a little less than half the membership has access to a computer.) Imagine a student asking a technical question during class and you don’t know the exact answer. With access to the Internet (which more and more colleges are getting all the time) you could either ask the discussion group or access the group archives and have a good chance of handing him or her the answer before the end of the day, if not the end of the class. Or, more importantly, you could have the student sit down at the computer and find it him/herself.
How does one gain access to all this wonderful stuff? Here is what I did. I started with a Mac Plus (it doesn’t take a lot of computing power) and a hard disk. I purchased a fast modem ($130), telecommunications software ($89), two more megabytes of RAM (memory) ($100), and three books ($75). The Internet connection through Msen of Michigan was $20 for the initial hookup and $20 a month for unlimited access. My grand total was $434. That’s less than air fair to the SNAG Conference, at least from Detroit. You might not need to buy extra RAM and you can probably find the books in a library. That brings it down to $259. Better yet, if you’re at a college or university, you probably can arrange free access to the Internet through the school’s network or library system.
Can an Internet discussion group work for SNAG? Don’t take my word for it. Ask your friendly neighborhood ceramist about it. NCECA already maintains a list called CLAYART and a file server with glaze recipes and information. Have him or her show you what it has done for NCECA. I’m on the list and I’ve accessed the file server. It is very impressive. But, remember, the Internet is only a tool. As with any tool, it’s the people using it that make the tool work. The tool is there, waiting. All we have to do is pick it up.
To find out more about getting wired, I recommend The Internet Starter Kit by Adam C. Engst, The Mac Internet Tour Guide by Michael Fraase and The Internet For Dummies by John R. Levine & Carol Baroudi, or look in your local bookstore in the category “Internet.”