Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The internet (sic) gets ordinary

Wired Magazine, the real journal of the e- generation, has formally downgraded (or promoted) the Internet to the internet. This is major news.

In the past I have been an annoying stickler for correcting the spelling of anyone who slipped and used a lower-case "i" in Internet or a lower-case "w" in Web. These are, after all, formally defined terms. An internet is any collection of networks that communicate with each other. The Internet is the collection of networks that communicate via TCP/IP.

But if Wired is acknowledging that the Internet has become such an ordinary mainstream part of daily life that it no longer warrants a capital, I'll stop annoying people and follow suit.

Wired has also de-capitalized the Web and the Net. A web is a web. The Web is technically all the resources and users on the Internet that use HTTP. But both the Web and the Internet have overflowed their earlier boundaries, and today increasingly diverse access points and protocols co-exist in a bigger information/communication environment that I think of as the metanet. The World Wide Web Consortium now defines the Web as "the universe of network-accessible information, an embodiment of human knowledge." So I guess that's just about everything.

Removing the initial caps is in effect a promotion, because it acknowledges the relative ubiquity and mainstream-ness of the medium. As Wired puts it: "in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television."

How mainstream is the internet these days? At least in the US, it's routinely used for every day tasks, without the attendant anxiety or wow-factor that was there a few years ago. We use the internet without really being aware of what we are doing -- rather like the way we throw a light switch and just expect electricity to do its thing.

According to a report released a couple of days ago by the Pew Internet and American Life Project: "Fully 88% of online Americans say the Internet plays a role in their daily routines. The activities they identified as most significant are communicating with family and friends and finding a wealth of information at their fingertips. And 64% of Internet users say their daily routines and activities would be affected if they could no longer use the Internet."

Those in learning and development who still maintain that the internet is a poor substitute for face to face communication might be swayed by the 85 percent of Americans who say the internet is a good way to communicate or interact with others.

But the study also reveals that while the internet is the preferred medium where efficiency is important, most people still default to doing most things the real-world way.

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