Lucia Somberg
Eighth Grade, Graham and Parks Alternative Public School
Cambridge, Massachusetts

I'm a citizen of Cyberion City, a space station on MicroMUSE. "MUSE?" You might ask. A MUSE is a network on the Internet -- a text-based virtual world where you can build and explore rooms, objects, all sorts of places and meet interesting people from all around the world. MUSE was developed out of the early computer games where you would walk around from "room" to "room", getting descriptions of everything as you went and interacting with the things you found. The difference between these and MUSEs is that on MUSEs the object is not to go kill the monsters and find the treasure, but rather to interact with other people and things, and create your own places using the object-oriented programming language that is a part of MUSE, learning as you go.

Since our own MUSE was set up at my school last winter I have really gotten into MUSE and learned more from and about it than I thought was possible from a computer "game". One of the things I value most about MUSE is the diversity of the people I've met. I have found many people there to talk to whom I would never run into in real life, people who share my interests, and many of whom don't know my age. Some are from other countries, some are much older than me, some are younger, some aren't comfortable communicating in real life, so they resort to virtual reality for their real friendships. On MUSE, I can be anyone I want, anything I can imagine. And people will accept me as that, because that is who I am on MUSE.

Recently I have gotten more into programming on MUSE. I have been so busy over the past months talking with my friends and having the stimulating conversation I wish there were more of in real life, that I didn't get around to learning MUSE code for a while, but I finally have. When I build, I learn as I go, checking the help files when I need them, only asking for help if I've struggled with a problem for a while first. I find I learn best by looking at other people's work, seeing how they use commands in different ways, and then using those same methods in my own work.

There was one project I was working on a while ago -- an intercom system -- solely for the purpose of learning to program better. Now I am in the process of building a farm from "The Belgariad" by David Eddings. People can walk through it, pick things up, and interact with the characters there. Through this project I have learned a lot about MUSE code, probably most of what I know. I am experimenting with zones and with objects that affect each other, having great fun with it, as well as making a place for other people to explore.

Although my school has its own MUSE, I am one of only two people there who are really into MUSEing and know the system well. Our own MUSE is pitifully small, so small that I own one quarter of the objects. Every time I see that little fact, it reminds me that I need to be recruiting more people so that we can expand the environment and make it a more interesting place, somewhere that people will look forward to being a part of. I have invited a few people from other MUSEs onto my school's MUSE, but more importantly I teach a course on MUSE to sixth graders. They have really gotten into it and are now building objects that will do things when you pick them up and drop them. It is also a wonderful experience for me, since I have never gotten to teach anyone something really important to me before. Just recently I convinced one teacher to let a group of us MUSE during recess. I don't really teach this group; I just showed them a few basic commands, and from there they learn on their own, exploring and figuring out how to do things.

MUSE encourages users to learn on their own. Although you can learn a lot by being taught about MUSE, it is also important to do some exploration and figure some things out for yourself. You are forced to learn how to use the help system and understand what it means, but sometimes even that won't solve a problem. So you've got to figure it out some other way. It's great creative problem-solving practice for real life, when there may not be anyone around to show you how to solve a problem, or maybe even no one who knows how to solve it -- you've just got to do it. yourself. But there are always other people logged on, so if you're really at a dead end you can ask one of them. Most people are very willing to help, and by helping, they also get a better understanding of what they are explaining to you, and of how to make things clear in general.

MUSE has changed my life a lot. I used to spend a lot more time reading -- mostly science fiction and fantasy -- but now I spend a portion of that time logged onto MUSE, either talking with people or building places for them to explore. It has also made me happier; now I have many more friends with similar interests, people who I can talk to, test my ideas on, argue with. That's another thing. I LOVE to argue. By arguing, I find new ways to express myself, to prove my point, to prove to myself that my point is actually valid, and even if it's not, to figure out how I can convince whoever I'm arguing with that it is. On MUSE, I do this all the time.

All in all, I think MUSE is great. I've been on for nearly a year now, and I plan to be on for many more.

Ben Harvey
Ninth Grade, Shipley School
Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

In December of 1992, I received a modem as a Christmas gift. Familiar only with the communications hype I had read in computer magazines, I set out on a journey; a journey that would open my eyes to the future of technology. I connected to the Prodigy Information Network, and as my modem sent bits of data through the wires, I was sent along with them. Thrust into the huge world of communications as a neophyte, I soon learned and mastered the fundamentals of online interaction and communication. It was not until I connected to the Internet, the worldwide network of networks serving more than two million people, that I incorporated netrunning into my education. In school, while I was learning about the Greeks, who had the first great democracy, I was helping *form* a democracy on an online Multi-User Simulated Environment (MUSE); Instead of watching news of the Los Angeles earthquake on television, I conversed with someone through Internet Relay Chat (IRC) who had been *in* the earthquake. From my journey through many online virtual communities, I have acquired principles and experiences which I can apply to "real life."

Although I am not proud to admit it, Prodigy amazed me upon my subscription to its commercial online service. I, a person who formally used the computer rarely, was captivated and enthralled by Prodigy's interface. My first note written on a public bulletin board was something to the effect of "Is this too good to be true? Can everyone hear me?!" I soon was accepted by the online culture and learned how to "flame" someone, write messages with symbols as headings so more people would read them, and to use jargons to represent phrases, like "brb (be right back)," "WBS (write back soon)," and " (grin)." Although Prodigy is known for its bulletin boards full of chatty, ignorant teens, I gained from Prodigy an audacious confidence for facing others off the modem. Heck, if I could flame someone on a computer, couldn't I stand up against a bully in the real world?

As the public became interested in the Internet, I did too. Leaving a chatty online service to join a text-based, educational network was a major leap for me. But once again, I became accustomed to the net.culture in no time. I joined USENET, the news-related information server, as well as Internet Relay Chat, and many simulated worlds such as MUDs and MUSEs. The Internet eventually became so fascinating that my virtual life began to overtake my real life. On a MUSE chartered toward education and community-building called MicroMuse, as a result of my long hours on the system, I shaped the suppressed online society into a nurturing electronic democracy welcoming the advancement of new ideas. Fortunately, my high school education paralleled with my online actions: when I learned of the ancient Athenians' construction of an "agora," a multicultural meeting place and market, I helped build a "Community Center" on MicroMuse. Similarly, I created an email mailing list called the "Town council" for members of MicroMuse's citizenry to share ideas and thoughts, and modelled its structure on the Greeks' public "Assembly."

Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and other online chat interfaces allow one to experience first-hand conversations with others via "channels" of different topics. One can speak with people in Brazil, Japan, and possibly people who are down the street. The range of topics on all the different channels provides many multicultural and diversity learning experiences. To reach others across the world and interact with them on the topic of radio, my major hobby, I created a channel for teen DJs like myself. The channel grew larger and larger as time went on. Our team, dubbed "Teen Voice USA," now produces a radio show aimed at kids and produced by kids that is produced with a soundcard, and made accessible as a sound file monthly on the Internet. IRC has given me a chance to explore other diverse cultures, while enabling me to discover specific interests within myself.

The Internet and other networks serve as microcosms of people representing diverse ideas found in real life. My experiences have allowed me to experiment with virtual communities using theories and concepts learned in the classroom. Governmental structures (that have both failed and succeeded in the past), interaction among masses of people, new learning strategies, and basic forms of creativity can be applied to "virtual" communities for the testing of these philosophies and ideas. My education offline has been able to weave into my online education, allowing me to think and learn with a curious, informative mind.

The Information Superhighway is at a point where it provides extra resources for those who are privileged and can access it. Networks have been able to intertwine with students' educations outside of school, providing amazingly accurate and informative information. In the future, I hope the Net will *merge* with schools, providing teachers and students with facilities to nurture and promote further creative education. Once schools and Networks are fused into one, a student will be able to apply ideas taught by the teacher to a computer linked to a network such as the Internet. As it has done for me, the Network has the potential to become a major medium of our future educational institutions. Say goodbye to those textbooks, and say hello to those Networks!