Network: You can make money now, by learning enough about the Net to set up shop as a consultant, a webmaster, a Web designer, an HTML coder, or any one of a host of other professions

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The Independent Culture
Reader Philip Resheph, responding to my first "literacy" column (18 November), had a good suggestion. Rather than point out problems, wrote he, wouldn't it be grand if I would point to answers?

Philip's right. Anybody who parts with 45p for a copy of The Independent deserves better.

So, how can one prosper on the Internet? Three suggestions, ranging from the practical, to "think before you try this at home".

Idea one - save money: switch as much as possible of your communication and communication-based business to the Net. E-mail can be much cheaper than postal mail, faxes and phone calls to faraway places or transportation to a distant office or home. E-mail isn't always appropriate or even possible, but when it is, use it. Needless to say, in places where high phone charges apply, you may need to do a little calculating to figure out which classes of communication really are cheaper.

A corollary is to spend the same as you do now on communications, but extend your reach. Connect with more people, and you're more likely to uncover opportunities. Use the cost differential to build a personal or professional network on top of the global network, and discipline yourself to use it.

Use Web-based services: increasingly you can find cheap stuff on the Net - everything including used computers, airline tickets, automobiles and houses. Well-made Web interfaces save companies money, and some pass the savings on to customers. You can also bank, trade stocks and pay bills over the Net, depending on your local circumstances, and the best of these services are more convenient and cheaper than other methods (remember, your time is worth something).

Idea two: educate yourself. You can amass intellectual capital easily on the Web, either through self-directed study or by taking advantage of any number of free or inexpensive distance-learning programs.

Pick a theme that you feel will help you to compete better in your chosen field and spend 30 minutes a couple of times a week focusing on finding and assimilating the best information you can. Master the Net search engines - learn to structure searches that result in more focused results, a skill that, like typing, will always help you, wherever your career path leads. Make your first assignment to survey the resources available, and make a list of the most promising ones.

It is particularly easy to gain technical literacy on the Net - Web pages, Usenet news groups, Listservs and e-mail can help tremendously, either with outright knowledge, or with pointers to other resources. You can ask questions when you get stuck on difficult topics - and you'll be amazed at how helpful some segments of the Net community can be.

I am personally acquainted with dozens of people (like myself) who have prospered by teaching themselves to be technically literate. Many people in this group have doubled or tripled their incomes - in some cases they have done much better than that - by using the Net to build technical proficiency. Some succeeded by bringing their newly won technical acumen to bear on their traditional fields, others by making quantum leaps into new and fascinating areas. Just knowing the current buzzwords can open doors.

Idea three: invent the future. You can make money right now by learning enough about the Net to set up shop as a consultant, a webmaster, a Web site designer, an Internet service provider, a researcher, an HTML coder or any one of a host of other professions.

But go further. Take a moment to "think different" as one, presumably syntactically challenged, computer company currently advises. Take some part of your time - say, 3 per cent - and think about "blue sky" topics. Put unlikely ideas together and see what happens.

Dare to make mistakes - error and chance are among the most productive engines of invention ever.

Here's one of my recent attempts at thinking differently. I've been watching the Web and other sources for information about media and at the same time reading about the origins of life and evolution.

One current, hotly debated evolutionary theory is that of punctuated equilibria, which holds that the evolutionary record is one of long periods of relative stability, punctuated by relatively brief periods of radical change. Dinosaurs ruled for a long time, and then vanished in a geological blink of the eye. The punctuated equilibria theory stands in contrast to Darwinian "gradualism".

Media types seem to exhibit this same behaviour. A medium holds sway for a while, then a new one pops up and takes off. Newspapers were a leading information source for nearly a century before being arguably out-paced by broadcast media.

Moreover, the period from the invention of a media type to its broad success seems to be compressing. Printing was 300 years old before steam- powered presses made cheap newspapers, magazines and books possible, but broadcasting took only 50 years to go from laboratory to commercial success.

If there's anything to my crackpot theory, then the Internet is poised, 25 years after the deployment of the first Arpanet nodes, six years after the invention of the World Wide Web and three years after the launch of the first commercial browser, to begin its ascendance.

Many fortunes were won when first print, then broadcast moved into the mainstream by those who invented, or stumbled upon, compelling ways to use those media.

So, give it a shot, think! Or are you now fretting over the 45p you plunked down to read this?