I’ll be glad when it’s over. The general election that is. We seem to be living through an electrified hiatus. The nervous tension, just waiting for the off, is threatening more cardiac arrests than our enervated NHS could possibly cope with. The year 1979 was pre-history; 1983 saw the Labour party make a valiant effort to disregard the television age; 1987 saw the introduction of mobile telephones; 1992 saw John Major’s soap box succeed where Canute had failed; 1997 is going to see the arrival of virtual campaigning and prefigure 21st century elections. First time round, as with the presidential election in the US, the different parties’ web performance will hardly influence a single vote. Only the wired cognoscenti, news junkies and journalists will be interested. Opinion formers will take note, but it will be a peripheral piece of data, with no real significance in its own right. All the parties will be anxious to do well, and certainly not to make any mistakes. And hackers will do their best to screw it all up. But who knows how far things will have gone by 2002? It would be wise to get in practice now. So when the starter gun pops make sure you find out what everyone is doing in cyberspace and take a look. Watch this space for details. Soon you will be able to tell your grandchildren: “Well of course I remember when we had to leave our homes to vote. I know this sounds silly but I think we used to walk to a local school or somewhere like that, and put a mark on a piece of paper, with something called a pencil which hung off the end of a piece of string. Then, in 1997, things started to change…”
of course virtual campaigning is not new. It has become a standard part of almost any attempt to push a new product or new idea. The absence of a web site now says a lot about you. A whole industry of “web publishing” is emerging to capitalise on this new imperative. The Brits are becoming world leaders in web site design. The “not for profit” sector has been using the web to great effect as a means of promoting their concerns and passing information between and among their highly diverse memberships. Greenpeace has a wonderfully put together site (www.greenpeace.org) which cheerily directs us to consider a range of horrors neatly labelled “toxics,” “nuclear,” “atmosphere” and “biodiversity.” There is so much to worry about. Thank God they are doing it. Greenpeace have also established a little corner (www.greenpeace.org/~uk/science) where, inter alia, they discuss the vexed question of male fertility. I never thought that a picture of thousands of tadpoles could look so enchanting.
on 3rd february NCH Action For Children is launching a national campaign called “House Our Youth 2000” which focuses on the plight of homeless young people and sets out an action plan to get them all off the streets. NCH’s web site provides practical advice and guidance to young people who might already be homeless or could be on the verge of becoming so. If you are living on the streets or in a hostel gaining access to the web might not be that easy so a lot of the advice is directed at the people who work in this area professionally. Having had a modest hand in putting the site together I trust Prospect readers will have a look and act accordingly. The address is: www.hoy2000.org.uk.
i recently helped install a new mega PC: 200 MHz chip with all the bits to match. On one of the communications ports, we used BT to install an Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) line. Once you add up connection fees (?400), a BT Ignition ISDN “device” (?325), line rental (a minimum of ?88 per quarter), not forgetting VAT, ISDN will cost you around ?1,000. On to the other communications port we attached the new US Robotics Sportster Voice 33.6 modem (?120 plus an ordinary telephone line). This gave us a perfect opportunity to compare the two technologies. The ISDN connected to the internet quicker, but then the automated signing-on procedures more or less cancelled out that advantage. Once on the web, it was hard to spot the difference. There was one, but again it was slight. Moreover, US Robotics modems are shortly to get a free upgrade which will take them up to speeds of around 56 kbps, nearly double the current standard speeds. Okay, so there are lots of other things you can do with ISDN lines that you cannot do with a common or garden modem, but I am pretty sure that the lower end of the ISDN market is going to disappear very soon, or prices will have to fall dramatically. Eventually ISDN, or some other digital format, will rule the world, but not yet. n
You can contact John Carr on the Net Position on: email@example.com