Last year, Lori Skillman, a sophomore at Cedarville College, a Christian institution in Ohio, was talking via the Internet with another user in Seattle.

He wrote to her: “There’s something about you that’s really different. I’ve been bashing your God, but you haven’t run away; you haven't condemned me. Nobody has ever listened to me like this before. I want that kind of peace in my life, that kind of calm."

Skillman's e-mail reply pulsed 2,500 miles back to him in seconds. "That's God in me," and she began to share the gospel. The man then asked, "How do I do this?" She replied, "You can just stop right there and pray." A few moments passed, and then his e-mail reply flashed on her computer screen, "I just did." Later, in a followup phone call, he admitted to her, "This is the first time I've cried for any reason."

At some point in the distant future, cultural anthropologists may conclude that the mid-1990s became the season America got wired. Today, an estimated 6 million individuals cruise the major commercial online services, retrieving electronic mail, joining chat rooms, reading the New York Times, The Associated Press, or other news services. Tens of millions more Americans navigate the Internet, the vast global computer network of networks, which currently links about 100 countries and more than 4.8 million computer system hosts.

Although fewer than 10 percent of the American people are presently online, their numbers are growing rapidly, in part because there are several critical advantages in using computer networks to communicate across long distances:

  • Electronic messages, or e-mail, can be exchanged across great distances at a fraction of the cost of an international or long-distance voice telephone call because both sender and receiver typically retrieve e-mail messages by calling a local access number.
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