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The Fourth World: The Promises and Dangers of the World Wide Web THE PROMISE Over the past 18 months, a new development has swept through the community of users of the worldwide network of computers known as the Internet. This new system for finding and accessing die information contained in the Internet's computers is known as the World Wide Web (WWW). This approach was developed by researchers at the Centre Europeen de Recherches Nucleaires (CERN) in Switzerland and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) in the United States. The system was such an improvement over previous systems that, by word of mouth (electronic and verbal), news of the World Wide Web has spread rapidly and the system has been adopted by thousands of people interested in delivering information to others using the Internet. The World Wide Web, to enthusiasts of electronic networks, has become a marketplace of ideas and information, and artists and art scholars are at die vanguard of its use [1]. It is perhaps hard to explain to those who are not frequent users of electronic networks why die World Wide Web has swept our community like a cultural revolution. What the World Wide Web does, with software applications such as NCSA's Mosaic, is make it much easier to • read or view the information stored in someone else's computer anywhere in the world • make available to anyone in the world (with Internet access) the information already stored in one's own computer • make new information available at the speed of electronic communications, so that changes to die data in a computer file are available as soon as one makes die changes to die file • publish all types information electronically—including text, images, sounds and video clips • publish material in hypermedia. Based on die fundamental principle of hypertext, the link, die Web allows users to easily set up connections between any type of information in one computer (whedier it involves sound, images or text) and information stored in anodier computer. Thus, all the information linked togedier on the World Wide Web effectively becomes a single multi­ media "text" • use die same system to access the most technical of information and software, as well as games and educational material [2] • "browse" online. One can currently browse dirough multimedia information stored in comput­ ers all over die world—tins is now as easy as walking into a library on a rainy day and browsing through printed books. None of diese capabilities are, in themselves, new—they have been available for some time to re­ searchers and diose with large computers and expensive multimedia conferencing software. What the developers of die World Wide Web have done is make it easy and cheap for a large number of computer network users to be able to share multimedia data, connected dirough hypertext on a planetary scale. The developers have provided ways for a broad range of users—including those widi die most sophisticated computers and diose widi smaller personal computers—to access information dirough die World Wide Web. When the history of the 1990s is written, I believe that historians will conclude that the World Wide Web contributed to a cultural revolution. The advept of WWW can be compared to die intro­ duction of the public library and public schooling during die nineteenth century, which democra­ tized access to printed information and was part and parcel of die development of liberal democra­ cies in die Western world. In a real sense, the World Wide Web democratizes and internationalizes access to online infor­ mation and online collaboration widiin the community of users diat has grown with die Web's development.© 1995ISAST LEONARDO, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 1-2,1995 1 THE DANGER Very few people—under 100 million individuals on the planet—have access to the Internet's com­ puter networks. This access is highly concentrated in developed countries and, within those coun­ tries, to individuals within companies and organizations or with sufficient personal wealtii and access to expertise. The overwhelming majority of the world's population is excluded from the World Wide Web. The development of these new and expensive communication technologies leads to the further concentration of information...


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