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A reason to go online

On Friday, the world was waiting for the Starr report, queuing up in long virtual lines for the chance to get a peek.

I can't pin down the moment I knew that the Starr report hitting the Net was more than a really big story about really important findings about the sexual escapades of the most powerful man in the world.

By the time the report was posted, by the time we were all scanning through it to see if the president really had participated in impeachable crimes (while possibly searching for the word "cigar"), I realized this was much more than just another really big event. Where the Net was concerned, this was the story. Finally, we had gone mainstream.

If you judge the Net by most television news over the last few years, you would think that it was filled with rumors, pornography, child molesters, and lots of kids who like to reverse their capital letters and call themselves hackers. You'd be right, but you'd also be wrong. The Net, as most people reading this column probably know, is everything that people put onto it--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

On Friday, the world was waiting for this report, clamoring for it--queuing up in long virtual lines for the chance to get a peek. And they got it online.

There was Sam Donaldson on national TV reading from a printout at a press conference with Clinton's lawyers, telling them that, no, he didn't know what page it was because he had gotten it off the Internet.

There was the CNN broadcaster scrolling on a Netscape Navigator browser and reading from it, in real time. Anyone with a computer and modem and a few bucks--or a friend who is online--could read right along with her, just as anyone with a television and cable access could watch CNN.

This wasn't new. I know that. I have been writing about the Net for more than two years and have been online daily for about five. Congress, for its part, has been releasing documents--including legislation--for nearly as long.

The difference was the magnitude: This time, the whole world could see. It wasn't just the religious converts--the Netheads--who knew the Internet's magic that day. I'm betting that a lot of people who had never before logged on did so on Friday. Even if they didn't, they could see what the Net can do.

For many people, it took the Starr report to formally recognize the Internet as a legitimate mass medium, not the scary universe somewhere out there, as it has been portrayed so many times before. It became just another way to disseminate and reach information for an important story.

That's what was so important. Whether or not they actually logged on, millions of Americans understood the Net in a way that they may not have before--in the way many of the tried and true Netheads have for weeks or months or years.

It was our coming of age, our ceremony, the moment we got up in front of the world and read the scriptures, sang the songs, practiced the ritual. On Friday, we Netizens had, for all intents and purposes, become adults.