Read an Excerpt
We didn't take shop in high school. And we wrote all our college papers on manual typewriters back when computers were still exclusively the province of the techno-savvy. Until several years ago, we rarely handled anything more technologically complex than an electric vibrator. So we consider ourselves living proof that you don't need a degree in computer science to enjoy a lusty romp on the Web. All you need is some basic equipment, curiosity, and an adventurous spirit. In this chapter, we'll review the tools and terminology that will help you get started online.
The Internet and the Web
For most of us, the origins of online communication are so hazy that it's almost as though "in the beginning God said, let there be the Internet." Actually a far-from-divine entity, namely, the U.S. Department of Defense, created the Internet in the late 1960s as a military communications tool that could remain operational in the event of a nuclear war. Basically, the Internet connects a vast array of computer networks via phone lines both its own high-speed pathways and standard phone lines. From the get-go, this system was completely decentralized, so that the lines of communication would be less susceptible to attack from our cold-war "enemies." This same absence of a central authority survives in the anarchic environment of today's Web.
Federal funding subsidized the expansion of the Internet, which grew to link a global community of government agencies, scientists, research institutions, and universities. Throughout the '80s,members of this technical elite benefited from the worldwide contacts, electronic messaging, group conferencing, and information sharing that the Internet allowed. By the late '80s, the U.S. military moved on to high-security networks of its own, paving the way for unrestricted public access to the Internet. The time was ripe to make the Internet's networking, educational, and research possibilities available to all.
Until quite recently, you had to be somewhat of a techno-geek to master the Unix-based syntax required to navigate the Internet. In order to make this powerful communications medium more accessible to the average citizen, a European physics lab developed the technology for the user-friendly, graphical interface known as the World Wide Web. The Web is an overlay that transforms the text-based environment of the Internet into a multimedia display in which text, graphics, audio, and video can be combined into "pages" of information connected by "hyperlinks" that allow surfers to roam from topic to topic at the click of a mouse. Its dazzling multimedia and interactive capabilities, and the fact that it has put the vast resources of the Internet within reach of anyone with access to a personal computer and a modem, have earned the Web the status of being one of the most significant inventions of the twentieth century.
Technically speaking, the Web is a subset of the Internet, but thanks to its versatility and ease of use, it has quickly become the dominant online medium and it could well be the fastest-growing communications medium of all time. These days, when people refer to the "Internet" or the "Net," chances are good they're actually referring to the Web. As of this writing, there are over fifty million people using the Web, and their numbers are increasing every day. If ever there was a bandwidth oops, we mean bandwagon to climb aboard, this is definitely the one. Here's how you can get on board.
Hardware and Software
You'll need the following basic hardware and software to access the Web.
Obviously, a computer is the first thing you need. PC fans should start with no less than a 486 processor (but Pentiums are optimal), and Mac users will need either a 68040 or a Power PC processor. You may be able to get by with eight megabytes of RAM, but be prepared to buy more if you want to take full advantage of Web features such as streaming video or real-time chat. A color monitor is essential to appreciate Web visuals, and you'll want a monitor that allows you to fit an entire Web page on your screen without having to scroll around to take it all in: a fifteen-inch monitor should do the trick.
Modems transmit data from one computer to another over phone lines. Most computers these days come with internal modems preinstalled, or you can buy an external modem. Modem speed can make or break your online experience. The faster the modem, the faster it will transfer Web pages onto your computer screen, and the less time you'll spend twiddling your thumbs on the "World Wide Wait." Graphics, photos, and videos take up greater bandwidth the term for the amount of data that can be transmitted through any online channel than text, and if you want to enjoy any of these features in less time than it takes to grow gray hairs, you owe it to yourself to invest in the fastest modem you can afford. Speeding up access to the Web is the biggest technological challenge facing Internet service providers, and you can rest assured that phone, cable TV, and high-tech companies are all working (and competing) on ways to expand bandwidth and minimize gridlock on overcrowded phone lines.
In the meantime, we all have to make do with the current technology. We researched this book using a 33.6-Kbps modem ("bps" stands for "bits per second"), and you shouldn't settle for less. Just be aware that by the time this book is published, 56-Kbps modems may well be the standard. Currently, you also have the option of using an ISDN modem; these are much faster than standard modems, but they entail higher monthly fees and the expense of installing the digital phone lines they require. A new technology called DSL (Digital Subscriber Technology) promises to use ordinary phone lines to transmit data at a speed over thirty times faster than that of traditional modems, but it's not yet affordable for most consumers.The Woman's Guide to Sex on the Web. Copyright © by Anne Semans. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.