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Book Reviews

December 1997

Asleep at the Wheel: Australia on the Superhighway
Asleep at the Wheel, John Nieuwenhuizen (Paperback, ABC Books
ISBN 0-7333-0550-4)

While this book is not totally pessimistic in relation to the Internet (alias the Information superhighway), it does tend to paint a rather bleaker picture that I believe is truly necessary. Granted, there is a lot of hype about the Internet and what can be realised from connecting to it, but it is not all doom and gloom.

Like any new technology, it will have its teething problems, some of them will be unique, as it marries computers, modems, telephone lines, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the average person.

The original purpose of what is now known as the Internet, was to be a communications and distributed data system that might survive a nuclear war. There is a lot of data out there, but little actual organised information (sorry about the tautology, but not many people know the difference between data and information).

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Now, while the Internet (and its dressed up interface, the World Wide Web), are not the solution to all of our problems, it is not really the big problem portrayed by john. It is disorganised, the interfaces are not always pretty, the information out there is often hard to find, and it is unregulated, but you really do not want it regulated. It is a web of data that can be transformed into information by the user, be they casual or serious.

While some people feel that now is not the right time to get involved with the web, due to its lack of maturity, the web will stop developing. It is much too diffuse and anarchic to 'stablise'. The only areas that may recognise standards are the ways in which it is accessed. This will involve such things as the web browsers, ISPs, the equipment required to browse the web and the way the web/Internet is presented to people.

John presents Australia's rush to get "wired" as precipitous and likely to result in our being locked into out-dated, inappropriate technology.

However, if the wiring is not done now, it is unlikely to be done in the near future. There are many things that are need to access the web now, many are being subsidised by either the government or some businesses/computer companies/software companies. Starting now avoids more expense to the schools and the rest of our educational institutions in the future. The equipment and software now going into these areas will be outdated very soon, but even so, at least people will have been exposed to the web and the items that are out there.

This is more important that doing it "correctly" the first time. If we had all waited for the "ideal" computer hardware/software to come out, none of us would have bought anything. Like many areas of high technology, sometimes it is necessary to get in on the ground floor and find out what we should not have bought in order to get the "right" stuff later on.

Overall, the book is somewhat pessimistic about the way we are implementing Australia's connection to the Internet/World Wide Web, but there are a number of interesting points that should be considered. However, I still believe that we should keep going the way we are in order to not be left behind in the information revolution that is going on in the rest of the world. This may not be the best way of getting there, but it is better than nothing.

Richard Hryckiewicz

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