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The Internet -- For Better or Worse, Part of the Fabric of Life

It's called the Virtual World, but many people are making it more and more part of their real worlds. It's modern-day life on the Internet. Paul Sisco takes a look at where we are -- and where the Internet could take us from here.

The Internet -- the Web -- today truly bringing the world's information to our fingertips. Intel chairman Craig Barrett calls it "the individual's window to the world." "It impacts everything you do, how you work, how you play, how you entertain yourself, how you learn," he says.

From its modest beginnings -- networking four computers at the U.S. Defense Department in 1969 -- it has become a sometimes confusing, beautiful, massive, information network.

Lee Rainie is a computer industry analyst. He is Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "We've asked people about how they feel about the Internet. Some people think it is kind of like the mall. Other people think that the Internet is predominantly a peepshow, and some people think the Internet is more or less a telephone system, and a wonderful way for people to communicate with others.

More than a billion people are now online. That's good and bad, says Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the inventor of the World Wide Web. "When you talk about the good side and the bad side, really you're talking about humanity. It's humanity that puts things on the Web and it's humanity which decides what its going to be."

Increasingly this new frontier is creating virtual worlds, like the Web site called "Second Life," where stay-at-home mother-of-two Hilary Connors goes to play.

“I can go out. I can go to live music. Yes, it is an escape, and there's no laundry there at Second Life."

Second Life was founded by Philip Rosedale. "Second Life empowers us to reach out and make social contact with each other in a way that in the real world, we just can't do."

In fact, forecasters say we're likely to be spending more and more time in the virtual world.

Industry analyst Paul Saffo says, "The excitement around this is the same as the excitement was around e-mail 20 years ago. We'll end up spending as much time in these environments, in a decade or two as we do in e-mail today."

But the so-called "Virtual world" can also be very real -- dealing with real people and their real lives. Sonya Foster, a mother of five stationed in Iraq keeps in touch with her family via the Internet.

So too do Amie Tugwell and her family. Her husband, Wayne, is serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq and "joins them for dinner" when he can. "The Internet has just been my life line." Wayne adds, "I cannot wait to get off work every day, and turn on the Web cam and be with you guys." Amie says it makes a world of difference in their lives “to see his face and his smile, when he sees us, that makes all the difference in the world."

Whether it's part of a virtual world or the real World, the Internet is keeping people all over the world connected.