Netiquette Banner Netiquette, by Virginia Shea, page 21

who otherwise never would have known each other. Usually, when you make a phone call, you know whom you're talking to. (Although I do know a couple who met on the phone. She was working as a telemarketer, selling what later turned out to be vaporware. (Endnote #4) He returned a couple of calls and finally confessed that he had no interest in her product but would really like to take her out for lunch. They're married now and have an adorable daughter.)

Telephone chat lines serve much the same purpose as network discussion groups. But for some reason -- maybe because they're quite expensive, or maybe because the conversation isn't written down and therefore is lost as soon as it's over -- they haven't affected our society on the same scale as computer networks.

The culture of amateur radio operation -- colloquially known as ham radio -- presents a better parallel to cyberspace. For many years, the barriers to becoming a ham and getting on the net were about equivalent. You needed a lot of expensive equipment and specialized knowledge. And, like net mavens of ten or fifteen years ago, hams have their own semi-priestly society based on their shared knowledge and interests. A ham can turn on his radio in the middle of the night and talk to someone on the other side of the country -- or the world -- and be fairly sure they'll have something in common.

Because the barriers to entering ham culture are still high, the number of hams in the world is still fairly low. But over the last few years, the barriers to entry into cyberspace have dropped dramatically, and the number of people communicating via computers has exploded in a corresponding manner. In fact, today, ham radio operators have their own online discussion groups!

Q. What would I want to do in cyberspace, anyway?

People enter cyberspace -- that is, they use computer networks -- for two purposes: to communicate with other people and to retrieve information.


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