We didn't have the Windows operating systems that are so common (rampant?) today, so most of the applications we had were text/character based. Applications like "gopher" and "telnet" were used to navigate the various libraries and information sites on the 'net, and programs like "Pine" and "Elm" were popular for checking email from our Unix accounts.
For the most part, if you were in college or university and you needed to do research on some topic, the Internet was likely to provide you some limited access to information databases online. (Real libraries provided the really useful information though.. no shortcuts.) Other than that, email was very useful for trying to get a hold of authors and researchers anywhere in the world. (Cool!) That was it though. If you weren't into Newsgroups, then you probably had a life and never gave the Internet a second thought.
By the early 1990's the Mozilla web browser appeared on the scene (running on the X-Windows interface on our Unix accounts) and changed the way we viewed information forever. The gopher sites were slowly replaced by more flexible and visually-appealing web sites. By the mid-90's, commercial businesses were jumping on the HTML-bandwagon and starting to make use of the Internet to appeal to a slightly different market - the technologically-savvy! Email accounts were gaining in popularity, as graduating students started to expect these accounts as a standard part of their professional lives too.
Sometime before anyone really started to worry about the "Year 2000" (Y2K) problem, the Internet was already becoming the "Information Superhighway" and the World Wide Web was becoming the standard interface to that information.
With any advancement in Communication we usually have Progress. When information travels faster, we can work with it sooner. Just think about what the Telegraph, Telephone, Radio and Television did for the world. Now we have the Internet, and the world is a smaller place once more. We can watch News as it happens from anywhere in the world. We can research the latest papers, articles, journals, and theories. We can shop and start a business within a global market. We can be entertained, post our thoughts, send messages instantly to others, and more! The Internet is truly a rich, multi-media opportunity to express our ideas and share information with everyone on the planet.
There's just one problem. There's a lot of crap out there too. I don't just mean the obscene material that some people of little intelligence or low moral standards think we should know about... I'm talking about the poorly-researched, incomplete, often-misleading, assumption-driven, over-hyped, or just plain incorrect information that is passed off as "fact". If you don't know how to tell the good information from bad, then just remember this simple rule:
ALWAYS IDENTIFY THE REFERENCES AND CHECK THE SOURCES!
"Houston, we have a problem!"
So, now we find ourselves floundering in a sea of information, and we can't always tell the useful from the useless. Welcome to the end of the Information Age.
Just knowing the facts (true or otherwise) isn't going to help you. You have to know what to do with that information. You have to know what the assumptions were that the information was based upon. You have to know when the information you are reading is incomplete. You have to know how to separate the useful from the useless. You have to know how to act upon receiving the correct information. In essence, you have to know how to process the information into useful action.
Welcome to the beginning of the Knowledge Age.