A version of this article under the title "Control Shift" appeared in "Community Care" magazine 4-10 February 1999. It is reproduced here with the agreement of the editor.
The Internet: just hype or an important contribution to social care and social work? Keith Fletcher reports.
“I need to have a word before the case conference on Wednesday. Give me a call as soon as you get this message.”
If it was between agencies this could be a fax message or left on an answering machine or with a third party. It could also be conveyed by Internet e-mail but, if the agencies are in the business of social care, that is still much less likely than between say academics or medics. If the message gets through, what does it matter? Well, quite. But e-mail is rather more likely to get through because it is more reliable.
There are other significant advantages. It is quicker and cheaper than
fax or phone (or post of course).
Distance has no effect on either cost or speed: Chicago is as close as Coventry! You can sent the same message to a number of people at once for no extra cost or additional time. It also has another considerable edge. “I am attaching an addendum on the family circumstances for you to insert into the court report for Friday.” Anything I write, like this article for example, I can send to you for you to insert into anything you want without the need for transcription. I can do the same with pictures or sound; a database or a spreadsheet.
E-mail has nothing in particular to do with social care or social work of course. It is just a very powerful communication tool. But as soon as you buy into it you open the door to two additional sources of information of enormous and very specific value.
E-mails can be sent to many people at once. That fact is exploited to set up discussion lists and news groups for people with similar interests. The difference between the two lies in the way they are stored, accessed and activated. If you want to join a discussion list you take an active step: you send a special e-mail to the controller of the list with your address. Some lists will refuse you access if they don’t think you are suitable and throw you out if you misuse them. Once on the list you can request or offer information and see the result of other requests and discussion. There are lists of interest to people in all branches of social care. As for news groups - there are about 32,000 of them but, to be frank, I have yet to find one of much value to me.
But the real information revolution is the World Wide Web (WWW). It is about four years old and already by far the largest information database in the world. It contains the biggest bookshop, several of the world’s largest libraries, detailed information on just about every topic you can imagine, extensive and intensive news coverage from all over the world - and a great deal of garbage! Finding your way around the world’s largest and least discriminating library is a learned skill but well worth the effort. You’ll find some pointers of use to social workers and voluntary agencies elsewhere on this page.
But aren’t there serious risks involved in “going on-line”? It is certainly
not risk free; it’s not myth free either!
Here are a few examples of how people use the Internet in practice.
This message, on the UK social work list run by National Institute for Social Work, produced over 40 responses within two days.
Students, academics, practitioners, managers and planners ask for information, research references, good practice ideas, new ways of managing and likely web sites (addresses for the World Wide Web). Internet users seem to be very generous with their learning.
Type “attention deficit” into a World Wide Web search engine and you’ll find a huge body of information, from all over the World. It will give you state of the art answers to your questions and others you hadn’t thought of.
There are two different kinds of Internet addresses, for e-mail (correspondence) and the World Wide Web (usually “read only”). My e-mail address, for example, is - firstname.lastname@example.org - . You can write to me there. World Wide Web addresses always begin “http://”. They are often listed in print publications now. There is no equivalent of the telephone directory for either but there are various search facilities for both on the World Wide Web itself.
You use a program called a “browser” to read what’s on the World Wide Web. If you know the address you simply paste or type it in. But there are other ways of finding things. Useful web sites always contain point and click LINKS to other sites. All the sites in the “Getting started” box have many useful links. You can use one of the SEARCH facilities on your browser. If you have a specific target like “Alzheimer’s” or “wheel chair access” they are usually excellent. Entering “social work” or “medicine” will get you started on sometimes a long road of discovery! Finally, with experience you can sometimes guess at an address; (try http://WWW. “Dell”, “Shell” or “Tesco” for example).
It’s best to start with a few sites with links to many other places. These UK social welfare sites satisfy this criterion and are informative and interesting in themselves. -
You can “subscribe” (no money involved!) to the NISW discussion group from their site.
The Government website gives you immediate access to its own and almost all other public sites and up to date Government press releases are at the second address.
There’s an excellent little Internet introduction at
Finally perhaps the best news site in the World is at
Created 19 March 1999