The Internet is both your greatest dream and your worst nightmare says Dan Bye
In cyberspace you will find both friends and enemies, all trying to be heard. And, thrillingly or frighteningly, there is relatively little anyone can do about it. No other medium offers as much freedom of expression. Should humanists welcome the Internet? Of course, it is a great feat of human ingenuity. But while taking advantage of the opportunities it offers, humanists should also remain sceptical of the more outlandish claims made either for or against this technology. There are social costs and social benefits to increasing reliance on the Internet. The wonderful thing is that publishing humanist ideas on the web is quick, cheap and easy as well. In principle, at least, a cash-strapped local humanist group has access to the same huge world-wide audience as the Vatican.
Some of the more basic web pages work better, to my mind, than some of the more ambitious. Sometimes useability is sacrificed to a fancy design and wizzy graphics. It has also been disappointing to encounter few examples of sites that really get to grips with the potential of the Internet in terms of interactivity etc. Many sites are mere noticeboards or depositories of documents. It's a start, but only a start. The web is developing all the time and we are part of that development. Evolution in action!
The first of these columns appeared in the March 2000 edition of New Humanist. The relaunch of New Humanist offers a chance to recap on these previous columns.
The diversity of the British secular humanist movement proves to be a great strength in cyberspace; it is unlikely that such a variety of material could otherwise be made available.The British Humanist Association (www.humanism.org.uk) and the National Secular Society (www.secularism.org.uk) have both been recently redesigned and relaunched. Both benefit from the changes made, and the websites continue to strongly reflect the different priorities of the two organisations. South Place Ethical Society (www.ethicalsoc.org.uk), the Rationalist Press Association (http://www.rationalist.org.uk/ [already here, folks]), and the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (www.galha.freeserve.co.uk/galha.htm) all have their own distinctive on-line identities. The Freethinker magazine, now entering its third century of paper publication, and 120th anniversary (it was founded in 1881), maintains a 'taster' web site (www.freethinker.co.uk).The Humanist Society of Scotland moved to a new site shortly after I mentioned them in my first column. They can now be found at www.humanism-scotland.org.uk.
The fiercely independent, informative, well-written, regularly updated, and award-winning "Humanists" web site can be found at (www.humanists.freeserve.co.uk.) This site is a good first stop for those seeking local humanist societies, as it includes a directory of their events and web pages where available. The two best sites for international humanism are those of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (www.iheu.org), and the Council for Secular Humanism, USA (www.secularhumanism.org). IHEU have recently relaunched their multi-lingual website, and it is much improved and easier to navigate. However, the best directory of humanist organisations worldwide remains CoSH's (the US Council of Secular Humanism at www.secularhumanism.org
I noted in my December 2000 column that since atheism gets a wider airing on the Internet than it does in conventional media, and since it provides a means of support for otherwise isolated unbelievers, and because searchers are inevitably exposed to unfamiliar material, the Internet may result in an explosion in the numbers of atheists, particularly in some regions of the United States where atheist ideas are rarely encountered. We'll see. The best atheist web site of all (indeed, a candidate for one of the best web sites of any kind) is that of The Atheism Web www.infidels.org/new/atheismthe work of the Internet Infidels . They also look after the Secular Web library of new and historical electronic books, pamphlets and other material on a wide range of atheist/humanist/secular topics. If you only visit one web site as a result of reading this column, make it one of these.