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Your stories: How the Net changed us

Julie Winnett used the Web to get a bachelor's degree, a dog and a big bike.


(CNN) -- When asked readers how the Internet has changed their lives, the e-mail inbox filled with stories from people who have used technology to keep in touch or find new ways to do business.

Some of these tales are by now very familiar: Millions of people use the Internet to e-mail family photos or use the Web to find customers around the world. Others are more surprising: One woman shared a story of adopting a child over the Web. A jazz musician explained how he paid off his house with earnings from 9-cent downloads of his songs.

Here is a sampling of those stories, sent by e-mail. (Some have been edited for length and clarity.)

Love and tattoos

Jane Webster, Phoenix, Arizona
Surfing the Web since 1999

I had been a single mom for years, choosing not to date, but to raise my son. Once he had moved out on his own, I decided to change my life. I downsized from my home to my "dream" apartment, got a computer and got online. I found a Web site called EXCITE.COM and found the personal ads. I then went out and bought a digital camera. I took pictures of myself and placed an ad.

I stated I was "Roseanne" looking for her "Dan." I was a big woman looking for a big man that loved life and was looking to share it with someone. My idea of camping and roughing it was a lodge called Kohl's ranch with a king-size bed, fireplace, and playing pool at the Cowboy bar next door while drinking some beers.

The next day I got an answer to my ad. He said he was a beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, Greg Allman look-alike, carnivore, and if I was still interested I could call him. I did. I suggested we meet for coffee. His response was, "Oh no. I want to go for a nice meal. That way if the blind date stinks at least I had a good meal to remember."

I agreed, so we planned to meet for dinner the next night. I asked him what kind of car he was driving and again what he looked like. That's when I found out he had 40-something tattoos. Hard to miss a 6-foot-4 Greg Allman look-alike with 40 tattoos.

We'd meet in the bar first for a drink. I called my girlfriend and gave her my digital camera. She got to the restaurant ahead of me. When he pulled up she took a picture of his car, then a picture of his license plate, then a picture of him. She gave me the thumbs up sign and I went into the bar to meet him. He showed up with a single rose. When we got our drink, I told him, "My friend just got a digital picture of you, your car and your plates. If anything happens to me, it will all be turned over to the police. Would you like to end the date now?"

He just laughed and said no, he wasn't crazy and that I was perfectly safe in every way with him. We chatted at the bar for a while and decided to go ahead and have dinner.

A few months later, he called me at work and asked if I was going to Vegas to get married what would I take. I said simply, "you." We were married that night at 11:45 p.m. The Internet changed my life. I found the man of my dreams and have been happily married to him this whole time.

A level playing field

Samantha Thomas, Pine Level, North Carolina
Surfing the Web since 1991

Working online has to be the greatest example of leveling the playing field for everyone. Several years ago, I was able to return to school via an online course offered by Andrews School of Medical Transcription. My blindness was not a factor. It did not affect my grade or ability to do the work required. However, it did provide me with a chance to gain a necessary education to enter the medical field.

Without the online class, my chance of returning to the work force was nil. The local college did not offer medical transcription and since the blindness, I was unable to complete the education I began years before in accounting and business. In 10 months, I was able to graduate from Andrews School without attending a brick and mortar classroom.

Finding work was not an issue because a national company offered me employment shortly before graduation. My office was in front of my computer within the confines of my home. I was able to work in a field where sight did not matter.

Printed reference books were not of value to me as I was unable to read them. Instead, my research came from the Internet. The result of my hard work was showing my children that disabled persons could be viable, productive members of society.

Building a family

Elaine Evers, Lyndhurst, New Jersey
Surfing the Web since 1998

Over the years, I have used the Internet to find better career opportunities, search for a new home, adopt two wonderful Maltese from a shelter/rescue group, shop around for the best deals on cars, auto insurance and mortgage. However, the most profound effect the Internet has had on my life is the recent addition of a little toddler girl into my life.

I used the Internet to scour information on international adoption, and became a first-time mom at age 46 to a 2-year-old from Gomel, Belarus, last summer. We returned home the day before her second birthday (July 31), and nine weeks later the country closed to international adoptions (October 2004). My life has been forever changed.

Political activist

Jack Lee, Yorktown Heights, New York
Surfing the Web since 1993

The Internet has provided an avenue for me to participate in the political process. In the past, I have never gotten involved with political rallies or fundraising. I just went to the polls every four years and voted.

Today, that is not good enough. I found I could be more effective in influencing public policy by joining forces with like-minded people. We can educate people about the issues and come up with solutions. We can apply our influence to affect legislation that can have dramatic impact on our lives. The strength is in numbers.

55 million to one

Tracy Latimer, Las Vegas, Nevada
Surfing the Web since 1994

When approximately only 350 people in the world are diagnosed with a rare disease, the odds of acquiring the disease, when compared to the world population, are approximately 55 million to one. But, if you are one of the diagnosed, as a patient you can feel like you are the ONLY one on the planet with the disease.

In 1999, at the age of 32, Cheryl Conway of Bridgeport, Connecticut, spent two weeks in the ICU recovering from two strokes that left her unable to walk, use her left arm or remember the ages of her two children. The doctors told Cheryl's husband, Peter, they suspected she might have a rare condition called Central Nervous System Vasculitis (CNSV).

Peter went home from the hospital and began looking for information about the disease on the World Wide Web. Armed with information from the Web site at Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center in Maryland, Peter was able to track down a local MS specialist at Yale-New Haven who had treated a few cases of CNSV successfully.

It was another year-and-a-half before Cheryl was able to go online herself and look for information on her condition. An Internet developer before the strokes, she had been an avid Web surfer since 1995, belonging to many online parenting communities. Hoping to find a community of other people with CNSV, she was shocked and amazed to find nothing but the Johns Hopkins Web site, which described the medical aspects of the condition, but could not tell her what it was like to live on a daily basis. Desperate to find others dealing with CNSV, in January 2001, Cheryl created a small Web site at Her main goal was to find others to talk to so she would not feel so alone. Six months after Cheryl launched the site, Dave Murray offered to help. Dave's wife had recently been diagnosed with CNSV. Director of The New York State Office for the Aging, Dave began the task of turning into one of the best sites to learn about CNSV, leaving Cheryl to focus on the community aspect of the site.

In 2003, on the other side of the United States in Las Vegas, Nevada, teacher Tracy Latimer began having neurological and cognitive problems as well as terrible headaches. She began to rapidly decline, physically and mentally. After numerous diagnostic procedures and tests looking for a brain tumor, she too was diagnosed with CNSV. She quickly began searching for information and support for patients diagnosed with CNSV. Tracy credits Cheryl's site with saving her sanity, and giving her accurate medical information and emotional support while being newly diagnosed and undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

The World Wide Web has allowed those with the rare condition known as Central Nervous System Vasculitis to build a community. Without the Web, it would have been virtually impossible to find the few hundred others with this condition. Banded together we have supported each other, mentored the newly diagnosed, and struggled to get the word out about CNSV. Many of us owe our health, sanity -- some our lives -- to the World Wide Web.

Virtual chart-topper

Elliot Levine, Silver Spring, Maryland
Surfing the Web since 1999

In 1999, there was an online music site known as It started as a file server in a San Diego garage and blossomed into one of the world's largest online music communities. I was a computer engineer and part-time jazz musician who had learned how to convert my recordings to the then-new MP3 format. I uploaded my songs to this site, not knowing the full potential of the new format and the accessibility of the Internet.

After uploading my music, I had a business trip to San Diego and drove to's headquarters after work. I met their enthusiastic staff and was later featured on a promotional CD containing 103 MP3 files, which had 250,000 pressings. My song climbed up their charts and became No. 1 overall.

After went public, they paid musicians a few cents per song download, even though the music was free to download. During the months of September 1999 through April 2000, my music had more than 1 million downloads and I made about $25,000, which I used to pay off my house. More importantly, I had worldwide recognition and popularity from the site, which was much greater than the small local clubs where I performed.

As a result of the site, my music was used by a Swedish ice skater, a Hong Kong karate movie, and a TBS basketball documentary. I can honestly say that I achieved unprecedented popularity without being on a record label or part of the music industry.

In 2001, was sold to Universal and the focus changed away from independent artists. After that, the site was sold again. I'm back to playing local clubs, but I can still say that the Internet changed my life in ways that I had never dreamed of.

Information overload

Julie Winnett, Charleston, Illinois
Surfing the Web since 1994

Without the Internet, I would not have been able to find my dog, my husband's truck, my Explorer, or my degree. However, you can also find too much if you're willing to pay for information, which I had to do when someone fraudulently used my father's Social Security number and the IRS was hitting him up for back taxes.

I got enough info from the W-2 the IRS sent to track down the owner of the company and his home phone and address. For my dad's sake, I was grateful that for $9.95 there was a database search for that and we got it resolved quickly and via the Internet we were able to notify Social Security and the credit bureaus. It was all resolved easily and no horrible experience like you hear so often on the news.

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