The internet is the best medium for communication ever! Once connected, a person is present to a greater than ever number of people, in a greater number of ways, at a greater than ever speed – all at a relatively low cost.
Tanzania is beginning to get the hang of this – many people are addicted to email and instant messaging, dropping into internet cafes every day or dropping everything at work when an email arrives. But the internet is about wider dialogue and discussion – a two (or more) way process. Beyond email Tanzanians are, with a few notable exceptions, only using the web and internet to look at information created by other people.
What is the internet for?
Beginning with email – which allowed people to send electronic letters to each other faster, more reliably and cheaper than traditional postal services – the internet has allowed the blossoming of a number of communication methods. These methods often reflect forms of communication that exist outside the internet – in the so called real world.
- You need to talk to someone now, and you need to be able to hear their response immediately. In the “real” world you meet with that person, or you pick up the ‘phone. Online, you login to your instant messenger, or dial your IP telephone, and chat away.
- You need to talk to lots of people at once, and they need to be able to disagree, agree and generally take the discussion further. In the real world you call a meeting or stand shouting on a soapbox on the street corner. Online
you enter an Internet Relay Chat room, visit a newsgroup or a web site forum.
- You want to tell someone something, but time is not an issue. You do not need them to respond immediately. In the real world you send a letter. Online you send an email, which gets there faster and costs less.
- If you want to say something, and you want as many people as possible to hear the message, but you don’t need a response from them you could publish a book or article. Online you set up a web site.
That is what the internet is about. If you are able to use all these methods of communication you become hyper-present – you are available to all people at all times. They can get hold of you and you can get hold of them.
For Tanzanians to use the internet to its full potential they must become hyper-present. They must share their knowledge and ideas. For this they need to start using a wider range of methods in using the internet.
Newsgroups are places where anyone can leave a message, and anyone else can read and reply to that message, all in public. There are a huge number of newsgroups in the world – at least 20,000. They range in subjects from religion
(alt.religion) to science (sci.answers), from music (rec.music.reggae) to politics (soc.politics). They are often lively and informative sources of information and debate.
Using newsgroups is very similar to using email – you compose a message and send it, but rather than sending to a person’s email address you send it to a newsgroup.
Newsgroups can be accessed by readers such as those built into Outlook Express and Netscape. You need to find a news server – you can register with Individual.Net (news.individual.net) to use theirs.
You can also access newsgroups through groups.google.com
Internet Relay Chat
Internet Relay Char, or IRC, is very similar in appearance to instant messaging, but is based around chat rooms; similar to what you may have seen on Dar Hotwire (www.darhotwire.com). You connect to an IRC server using programs such as mIRC (www.mirc.com) or Trillian (www.trillain.cc), and enter a chat room (or channel). A chat room can contain any number of other people, and you can see everything they say. You can join a discussion or just watch. You can even speak to individuals privately.
In the right IRC channel you might be able to get one to one support on computer problems, or even give help to someone you know more than. Chat rooms also exist where people trade things, from information to commodities to business secrets. Chat rooms can be very useful.
Building your own web site
For many people, the ultimate way of staking a presence on the internet is with their own web page. A personal web page can be used to share opinions, recipes, theories – pretty much anything that you might want to say.
For many Tanzanians having a personal web page seems impossible – but setting up a web page is not difficult, or expensive. A number of places exist where it is possible to host a web page for free. Simple tools are included which help
you to put text and pictures on pages. Starting in next week’s edition I will present a tutorial in setting up your own web page. All you will need to bring along is what you want to say.
Get ready to be hyper-present on the World Wide Web!
Originally published in Arusha Times 284