Some general advice from COIN

How much time?

A wide range of levels of Internet use are possible, varying from the occasional user to the full-time network professional. It is important to find the amount of network use that suits you -- which will vary from time to time.

Most Internet users start with a great rush of enthusiasm, perhaps pushing aside other activities such as watching television, to make room for their on-line time. Typically, after a while, they either lose some of their initial interest... or find it more and more absorbing.

The important thing to ask yourself from time to time is: "Is this a good use of this time?". Don't let it become an addiction: but don't shy away from making good use of it either.

A reasonable minimum limit

Once you have started to use email, it is good manners to check your email fairly regularly -- say a couple of times a week at least. If you don't do this, people may start to wonder whether you're ignoring them!

Types of activity

The Internet itself is simply a communications medium, with repositories and indices of information attached to it. It can be used for a variety of purposes, which sometimes blend into each other. You may like to think about how usefully your time is spent under the following headings:

Organizing Communication
Email, being quick, and having a record of what's been said, is a convenient way of organizing activities and meetings... and a moderately convenient way of holding meetings.

Personal Communication
Email is a popular way of keeping in touch with friends, being so much quicker than a paper letter, but, unlike a telephone call, travelling internationally at a flat charge and not needing the other person to be connected at the time you send it.

Mailing lists and newsgroups are a forum for discussion; mailing lists tend to have more focussed discussion, not to mention better manners! Both of these can take up an inordinate amount of time.

Search systems such as Google and Bing are an excellent way of finding information about a huge range of subjects.  There is probably a default search engine built into your web browser.

Simply browsing (or "surfing") the web can be a fascinating rainy-day activity; for most people, it probably belongs mostly in their initial rash of enthusiasm, being largely displaced by use of search engines to find more specific things once they find the network less of a novelty

The vast content of the web has all been provided through human creative activity -- if everybody just read (surfed and searched) there'd be nothing to read. So if you have some interesting or useful information that doesn't seem to be there already, you have a chance to make a contribution, perhaps a unique one (most ISPs provide some amount of web space as part of their standard package -- enough for quite a number of pages). Some people take web page creation as a form of handicraft, and enjoy the creativity much as some people do, for example, painting.

The effect on society

Many worry about the effects of the Internet on society, to a greater extent than they worry about the effects of the postal system and the telephone... is the net simply analogous to traditional communications media, or is there something different about it? The primary concern of some is that unsupervised minors will be able to seek out things that, outside of the Internet, might be more effectively withheld from them (although some would say that they will find it if they really want to anyway; to which it may be countered that a slippery slope should not be oiled further). Others, more trusting of their youngsters' motivations and judgement, are concerned with what may be found by accident. Another concern is that people may become isolated (despite communicating more!).

My personal opinion is that people will use the Internet to follow their own inclinations and susceptibilities, just as they will anything else; those easily led may be caught up quickly but those who know what they're about will use the Internet as a tool, rather than being used by its other uses, and so the real problem to address is the upbringing and education of people to have discernment in their own right.

Family use

Many children take enthusiastically to the Internet (and their skills may be a valuable resource to their families!). Not only are there web pages for young people, but also many by young people... I have seen well-written pages by ten-year-olds.

There are many concerns about children being corrupted by material they find on the Internet. In practice, it is rare to stumble across such material unless looking for it (although words with unexpected double entendres will of course produce unexpected results from the search engines). Programs are available to prevent web browsers from accessing known unsavoury material, but of course the lists these use need continual updating. Also, the worst material is generally by subscription only, requiring a credit card number... which you may have had other reasons for not letting your children use for themselves! Probably the most important factor in thinking about whether you can give particular children unrestricted and unsupervised access to the Internet is whether you think they'll be looking for material you'd rather they didn't see. The other type of risk (not statistically very large, but it has been known to happen) is that of approaches by strangers by email; it's worth pointing out to children that the same rules apply for talking to people by email as apply face-to-face in the street.

A good example of Christian Family site (somewhat American in culture) is Peggie's Place.

As most higher educational establishments are now on the Internet, many famiilies are finding email a good way of keeping in touch with their offspring when they become students.

Choosing an Internet Service Provider

The world of internet access is changing almost daily with new services and new companies coming and going as technology changes.