AT the same time that millions of Americans are going on-line, some computer network pioneers are going off-line.Skip to next paragraph
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``To be quite blunt, I'm beginning to find stories about the Internet pretty boring,'' says Gary Chapman, a former member of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility who has cut back his on-line use.
``The system has been hyped to death, and analyzed to death, and used as a metaphor for everything under the sun, and so on,'' Mr. Chapman says. ``Someone should write an article on what it is that makes the Internet so fascinating to so many people when there are so many other, more interesting things going on in the world.''
Even heads of computer-related companies from WordPerfect Corp. to Intel Corp have started logging off. Chief executives are drowning in electronic mail.
Some educators are also having second thoughts. In the mid-1980s, Prof. Langdon Winner of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute worked long and hard on how to spice up college seminars with electronic interaction. He's since gone on to other things.
Many educators are interested in interactive software, he says. ``But my own experience is ... that it still does not reach the level of a good book on the same topic.''
Not too long ago, Professor Winner's 9-year-old son bought an interactive software program on dinosaurs. The interface delighted the boy. ``It seemed to be like a living library,'' Winner says. But when he looked into what the program actually had to say about dinosaurs, it only gave two paragraphs on each topic. ``He was far ahead from what he'd already read in books.''
Researchers complain that so much of the Internet's content is junk that logging on no longer justifies their time. Others are deluged by electronic mail: Fifty messages or even 150 messages a day are not uncommon.
``There is one thing about this technology that definitely worries me,'' says Amy Bruckman, an education research assistant at the Media Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ``It is pressuring all of us to be at work all the time.''
Technology will eventually solve some of these problems. Software will be able to filter mail messages, for example, and do a better job of educating students. But ultimately, people will have to choose how much of their lives will be spent on-line.
``What I hope will happen is that people, as I myself did, eventually become bored with computer chat,'' Winner says. ``We need to have much more fruitful attention to what kind of world we're making, what sorts of families we will have when family members are linked to the network.''