I know, I know, . . . I’m obsessing a bit – if you’ve had enough already about the Crusade to Keep the Initial Capital in “Internet,” read no further . . .
Referring to the global TCP/IP network as “the internet” is, I assert, a real barrier to intelligent discussion and analysis of phenomena about which we need to have intelligent discussion and analysis. Let’s talk for a moment about the growth of the global network, and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s an interesting question — to what extent did the US government help “build the internet”? Well, it’s certainly true that, for many years, the US government (though DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] funded the development of an internet. But if you had asked people at the time, “So, what are you folks building over there?” they would not have said “We’re building the internet.” To say that would’ve been weird, because there were many projects underway, around the globe, to build internets — dozens of them, actually — and there was no internet that was particularly distinguished, enough to be called “the” internet. If you had walked into a networking conference in 1980 and said “So how’s that work on the internet going?” you couldn’t have gotten a straight answer, because nobody would have known which of the many internets you were talking about.
Now, of course, we all know that one of these internets — the DARPA-funded one — out-competed all those other internets; it grew and grew and grew, and it became . . . “the really big internet.” It would be good to have a label for that one, because we need to talk about it — not any of those other ones, because those other ones have no impact on our lives, and this one does. Calling it “the internet” implies that it is the only member of a category, when it isn’t; calling it “the internet” deflects attention from really important questions — about why this one is different from (or similar to) the others, about what gives this one its power, about why it grew and the others didn’t.
There are many canyons. Many of them are grand. So, there are many grand canyons. But there’s only one Grand Canyon. If we call it “the grand canyon,” what happened to all those other grand canyons?