When I cleaned out my desk at BUSINESS WEEK 14 months ago to begin a long-term leave and finish a book, I was bombarded by warring emotions. My elation at the prospect of cybercommuting from a beachside cabin was dampened by the thought of cutting myself off from personal contacts and unlimited information resources.
The fretting was natural but needless. My need to stay plugged in coincided with the explosive growth of the Internet. My son, a committed cybernaut, had long preached the Internet gospel. But he had a problem: Pop was not a mere technological agnostic but a heretic of Luddite proportions.
COWPATHS. In the end, it was like giving up cigarettes or following a diet: I just made up my mind. And here I am, one copy of Peter Kent's The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet (Alpha Books, $19.95) later, surfing the Atlantic and the Net at the same time.
Who needs an umbilical cord when he has a modem? I use the Net to tap resources that seem without end. E-mail allows me to chat with old friends and colleagues around the world easily and inexpensively. Online newspapers and magazines add a periodical room to my cabin. For fun, I take a break with sites about music, movie reviews, cars, and travel.
The Net also has the power to irritate. It can be frustratingly slow during periods of peak use. Inexplicable snafus can cause an instruction to abort a program. And the Net can disgorge mountains of junk. I learned that the Information Superhighway was a bewildering jumble of cowpaths. I needed a map. Fortunately, all the big search engines (Yahoo!, Alta-Vista, Lycos, et al.) and browsers have organized the Net into subject categories that I use to point me in the desired direction. Other indispensable guides are iGuide and the Net navigator in the CyberTimes section of the online New York Times--two of my favorite sites.
I've spent 40 years as a journalist, so I'm a news junkie. That's why the personalized start page I've preprogrammed contains links to six news Web sites: the online versions of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, AT&T's LeadStory, NBC's joint venture with Microsoft called MSNBC, Fox News on iGuide, and the ESPN sports coverage on SportsZone.
The online Washington Post dishes up the best coverage of the federal government, plus good coverage of Internet exploration equipment (browsers, earphones, and zippers--those programs that compress and decompress files for faster downloading). The online Journal is not just my starting point for financial information, it's also the closest thing America has to a great national newspaper. Result: I spend a lot less time thumbing through newsprint. And since both papers are free online (for now), I save $47 a month in the process.
I use the Website reviews in iGuide and the many links in LeadStory to surf within a specific subject. And MSNBC's dual versions on the Web and cable TV make it more than just another pretty CNN-like face. I used the online incarnation's index to pick and choose material rather than shlep through the whole Web site.
NEW MIND-SET. Another road map to the news, used less frequently but still wonderful as a bookmarked backup, is the Web site of the American Journalism Review (http://www.newslink.org). It provides links to 3,700 online newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, and news services worldwide.
A special favorite is Wired magazine's online Hot-Wired, which demonstrates how the nature of the Net fosters a very different mind-set. The linear thought processes of traditional journalism are out the window on the Internet, where the approach is peripheral. The viewer is constantly beckoned to wander off course by clicking on links in the form of icons, graphics, or hypertext. This scatterbrained characteristic of the Net drives some people nuts, but I find it one of its greatest charms. You could say that, for this technoid-come-lately, lateral thinking rules.