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Internet Has Many Uses - 2003-02-01

The worldwide computer Internet has changed the way millions of people live their lives. This is especially true in nations like South Korea - said to be the most "wired" nation on earth - and in the United States, where 60 percent of our citizens have Internet access. VOA's Ted Landphair has the stories of five Americans whose lives have been profoundly changed by the Internet.

A few years ago, Rayann Montague, who's now 33, decided to change careers, from teaching to becoming a school librarian. This was not an easy prospect, since she was working at an American school in Mexico at the time, and the best library science programs were thousands of kilometers away.

The solution? She hooked up with the University of Illinois, in the middle of the United States, via the Internet. Except for an orientation "boot camp," as she calls it, and a couple of other visits to the Illinois campus, she kept working at her job in Mexico and completed a two-year master's level program - online! "For the majority of classes, you're writing," she explained, "so you have a little time to think about your text and think about how you want to say things. You can post it during a class, or if something occurs to you, you know, two days later at 3:00 a.m., you can also post it and share it with the class."

In fact, Rayann Montague says distance learning via the Internet is ideal for students who might be shy or not very verbal. Online, they can shine!

Jerry Ostergaard, 43, is a public relations man in Chicago. He says his business used to involve sending out lots of written material like news releases and complicated press kits. But he says since he and his clients have hooked up on the Internet, he has not sent out paper correspondence in years. At home six years ago the Ostergaards bought their kids a set of encyclopedias. "Someone would have a question about - oh, I don't know - zebras, and we could go to the encyclopedia and look up 'Z' and see a picture of a zebra and learn about where they live and what they eat and stuff," Mr. Ostergaard said. "But then when we got a fast Internet connection at home, you have a question about zebras, your first impulse is to go to the computer and type in 'zebras' on a search engine. And you'll have not just one or two pictures of zebras like you'd have in the encyclopedia, but 30 or 40 at your fingertips. And you might even find a web page from a game park in Africa. Maybe even a live web cam [camera] so you could see zebras. The encyclopedia, we really don't use it very much any more."

Robert Ross, 60, teaches sociology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is living proof that the computer Internet can conquer distance and time, for he is collaborating on research, nearly every day, with a colleague who splits her time between Australia and China - 14,000 kilometers removed from him. "Just imagine exchanging paper drafts of articles that are being revised literally dozens and dozens and dozens of times by hard copy mail and editing by hand and then sending the stuff back, compared to the instant nature of sending files by e-mail," he said.

Michael Lunsford, 56, is a computer whiz. He works for a California firm called Pen & Internet, whose product enables users to write back and forth on the Net in actual handwriting. "I just spend so much of my day now literally in front of my computer screen," said Michael Lunsford. "I get in early and start writing e-mails right away. And even as people arrive here at the office, I still, you know, I don't even get up and say good morning to them. I'm just writing them e-mails. I think today I've been face-to-face with one person, and that was a rare thing. For the most part, though, I'm really experiencing my entire workaday world through my 14 inch [35 centimeter] screen."

Mike Lunsford admits there's a price for this Internet immersion: He gets much less exercise and has, as he puts it, "deteriorating people skills."

And then there is Christine Druther, 54, from San Diego, California. In 1990, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, 10 months after her mother died of the disease. She beat the cancer for a time, thanks to a surgical "lumpectomy." But in 1999 she discovered that Stage Four cancer -the most deadly level - had spread to her brain. Instead of accepting a death sentence, she combed the Internet and found doctors working with aggressive gene therapy using a government-approved antibody called "herceptin." 14 months later, she was again cancer free - and she remains so.

Now Christine Druther has her own cancer-support website on the Internet. "There were people out there like myself who couldn't do all the research that I did," she said. "They need to be prepared to check themselves out, to know what to do in case they become a Stage Four patient. I'm here, and I'm well. And everybody that talks to me finds it so compelling in my story that they feel that they can survive, too. And I'm here to tell them that they can."

So as we see, the Internet can be life changing for better or worse. It can even be life saving.