The Net's Two Faces

Maybe the medium is a message in itself, helping shape an age. But what's said or learned reflects the users, for good or bad. Look at the latest electronic medium to move into the mainstream of our lives, the Internet.

Turning a benevolent face our way, the Net brings us, for instance, the Library of Congress. In what seems an instant, a cultural and intellectual resource that used to be available only in Washington is open to millions. You can see Civil War photographs by Mathew Brady, original scores by Gershwin or Sousa, what the papers said the day after Lincoln was shot.

Of course, you have to have an Internet-capable computer, not a small investment for the average family. But the library's World Wide Web site already gets 20 million "hits" a month.

Then that other face. The Internet's e-mail capabilities have apparently attracted a certain number of bigots intent on spreading their hatred. Some universities report increasing e-mail slurs or threats against minorities on campus, particularly Asian and Asian-American students. Sexual harassment of women via e-mail is already a widespread problem.

The best and the worst of humanity. The Internet, like the media before it, mirrors both. Which should remind us that the greatest advance of all has to come independent of technology - through the medium of our thinking, where the decision can be made to choose only the best.

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