What is the reason for the rising popularity of beginner's and bluffer's guides about every subject under the sun? Are people really tempted by offers of enlightenment in a box, without any of the effort of studying, or do people just have a healthy curiosity about the world? If you're in the latter category, the BBC is currently running an excellent Modern World History site aimed at GCSE students, ranging from the Treaty of Versailles to the Second World War. It's very pictorial, and each section has a quiz section. It does have, it must be said, more than a whiff of the school history textbook about it, which might dredge up unhappy memories of days long gone, but the material is very well presented and extremely digestible. Subjects include Fascism in Italy, the Russian Revolution and the Allied Victory.
If you subscribe to Orange it could be time to check their website. Orange have long offered a very handy text communications system where you can send short messages to people with Orange phones. The only stipulation is that you have to register and that you can only send 30 messages in any 30-day period.
A lot of rubbish has been written about the "democratisation of the Internet" over the last few years. Last year, for example, Altavista, the search engine company, launched Babelfish, a programme which translates web pages from half a dozen languages. For a few days after it went online Internet pundits were, for some unfathomable reason, falling over themselves to explain how this symbolised some kind of fundamental shift in power towards Internet users. Despite these occasional moments of madness, however, there has been a slow but inexorable movement towards the opening of the Internet to increasing numbers of people. The problem has never been one of generating interest amongst people; it has been more about giving access. When the Internet was first dreamed into existence, it was purely a medium for academics. The barriers have gradually broken down and Internet access in libraries and other public spaces such as cybercafes has become more commonplace. This could be the year when the medium finally breaks through. In the meantime I'd like to hear from anybody who doesn't have a computer but has found a way to use the Internet for no, or virtually no, outlay.