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Getting connected

When Nostradamus had predicted about a `web' that would one day link the world, he probably had the World Wide Web in mind.

The Internet is the threshold to a new way of life. Given its potential and with Internet cafes mushrooming all over the city, it is only natural that the phenomenon has caught the fancy of the youth.

K. S. Sukesh, a student of the Law Academy, is new to the Net. "The Net has brought about a sea change in my perception of the world."

Anita Mathew, a student of the All Saints College, has been an Internet user for the past three years. "We live in a lonely world," she says, "and the Internet has introduced a new dimension to friendship, offering opportunities to meet people from all over the world and chat regularly without leaving the safety of our homes."

Ask Sophie of the same college, and she says. "Relationships are changing with the coming of the Internet. I prefer chatting on the Net rather than talking to friends, because anonymity can be maintained."

"There is a tendency to devaluate cyber friendship as `unreal' or `virtual'," says Saju Krishnan, a budding `web journalist'. Yet, he feels that people on the Internet communicate at a deeper level of honesty and genuineness than they would do outside the Net. This sort of communication may well be ushering in a new age substitute for the Catholic confessional. The Casanovas of the city have no qualms about shifting their `roving eye' to the virtual world. "Flirting on the net is cool," quips Yash of SCT College of Engineering. "It is risk free because of the physical separation and the bindaas part is that cyber relationships may culminate in meetings, dates, and in rare cases, even the nuptial knot. The moment anyone enters a dating room, one is inundated with offers of love and friendship."

If love isn't a game, why are there so many players?

P. B. Manju, a student at the Government College for Women, feels that the Internet has become a haven for the shy and lonely, because open chatgroups allow the person to unobtrusively observe others communicating, tentatively initiate conversation or to retreat with the minimum of embarrassment. She goes on to add, "For people who have certain disabilities or are overtly embarrassed about their appearance, the Internet provides an equal playing field. People can relate significantly for months before any photograph is exchanged."

"The Internet is manna for families and friends who are separated by distance," says Ajith, a medical transcriptionist. "My brother is in Germany and an occasional chat on the Net with him achieves what no number of letters can achieve. It is as good as a phone call, yet costs practically nothing."

But the Internet is not only about friendship and chatting. Ranjith Menon, an avid shutterbug, endorses the therapeutic effects of the Internet. He says he had been suffering from depression for quite some time, until he stumbled on an Internet site that was devoted to helping depressed people. The site apparently cured him of the depression. "Depression is a very scary and isolating experience," he says, "and the Internet can be an important lifeline for those who feel isolated -- geographically, socially or mentally. People connect on the web, share experiences and empathise with each other." With all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Internet, one may wonder as to what could possibly be bad about it? "For one thing, it may dissuade youngsters from using reference books and libraries since they know that the information they need is only a few clicks away on the Internet." says Biju V. Nair, who runs an Internet cafe.

"Another thing is that letter-writing gives us the time to think and organize our thoughts. The immediacy of e-mail may sometimes result in impetuously sent messages. A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila."

Rekha Nair, a student at the Kariavattom campus, says, "People would be better off spending their leisure time interacting directly with each other rather than indirectly, through a computer network. I stopped excessive chatting when it dawned on me that that I was jeopardising my relationship with my real friends in the real world. The social impact of excessive chatting can be turbulent."

Her friend Priya who communicates with her parents in Dubai through the Internet disagrees, "Direct personal contact is preferable, but when direct contact is not possible, as when people are separated by thousands of miles or are confined to their own homes, what are they to do? Sure, it would be wonderful if we could always visit our friends in person, speak by telephone, or just exchange handwritten letters.

Unfortunately, the pace of modern life makes these sorts of contacts more difficult to arrange and sustain." "Although the Internet is a wonderful educational tool, it can also be very dangerous," opines Ravindranath, a harried parent who got an Internet connection at home at the insistence of his 12-year-old son.

"Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of this comes from bad judgment. Unscrupulous people lurk the net searching for potential victims, with whom they can initiate communication. So I have installed `Filtering Software' on our computer to prevent my son from receiving unwanted solicitation or accessing inappropriate<243>sites."


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