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Wednesday, 1 September, 1999, 20:55 GMT 21:55 UK
Hitchhiker's guide to the Internet
internet site
Douglas Adams has his own Internet site -
It's a jungle out there. Barring reference to an overgrown mass of wild vegetation, the phrase in question has never been more suitably applied than with reference to the Internet.

With billions of pages (and counting), thousands of new users coming online by the day and a means of navigation akin almost to blind man's buff, the Net gets more awesome by the day.

Yet in a new two-part series for BBC Radio 4, author Douglas Adams reminds us that one man's jungle is another's rainforest.

 Click here to listen to the first programme

Adams, who established a marriage between comedy and science fiction years before Red Dwarf, uses the two half-hour programmes to present his vision of the future in hands of the Internet.

According to Adam's, one man's jungle is another's rainforest
Consulting a range of informed sources - from psychologists to specialist Internet writers - he examines pressing arguments and moral considerations.

But initially Adams takes an important step back from the bewildering arena of buzzwords terms as Boolean searches and flaming.

He establishes points that are so fundamental, most people will probably have not even stopped to consider them.

Interactive may be a term severely lampooned by those sick of e-this and e-that hype.

But "interactive" makes for individual empowerment. Where the telephone is one-to-one communication and newspapers and television are one-to-many, the Internet is many-to-many.

No longer 'them and us'

"On the Internet, there is no 'they'. There's only a very, very large 'us'," he says.

Thankfully dodging the all-too-predictable conclusion that this will revitalise tired notions of democracy, Adams considers the fact that chat groups and single-issue Websites create communities of interest.

Adams considers the impact of China coming online
Now birds of a feather can flock together effortlessly over thousands of miles.

The result, he believes, is that national identity will suffer as people form far-flung friendships over common factors such as vegetarianism or gun ownership.

Adams also considers the unfettered, organic nature in which the Internet has grown.

Jungle or rainforest - "both are different views of an essentially Darwinian process."

Growing through evolution

The Net is like the British constitution, not set in stone but constantly evolving. And while feedback through the polling booth is a slow, grinding process, the Internet allows for immediate reaction with what Adams calls feedback loops.

For every problem there is a solution and for every solution there is another problem.

Yet for the moment, there remain some key sticking points.

Adams considers the issue of which sources can be trusted in this information overload, and the fact that Internet users will become so reliant on electronic research they may neglect the wealth of knowledge documented in books.

The author who has made millions from his books even tackles the thorny subject of publishing copyright on the Net.

But still the financial threat is not enough to assuage his enthusiasm. Adams is a Internet devotee, who perhaps realises it could eventually be the definitive guide to the galaxy.

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