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Why Now?

By: Scott Bradner

The Internet is suddenly popular. Now, by "the Internet" I don't mean that travel agency in D.C., I mean the international mesh of interconnected data networks. For reasons best known to the media gods, articles about the Internet seem to be the thing to do these days. In a two and a half month period last year there were about 22 articles mentioning the Internet in major U.S. publications; this year in the same time period there have been over 170. A major newsmagazine, which only a few months ago had a cover story about the National Information Infrastructure without mentioning data transfer (they seemed to think, along with the majority of the telephone companies, that an Information Infrastructure is a way to build an automated video store) just had an article of almost the same length that touted the usefulness, power and scope of the Internet.

The Internet has even shown up on the newspaper comic pages (Dilbert) and the New Yorker. Newspapers from the Boston Globe to El Mercurio in Santiago, Chile publish Internet email addresses for those readers who would like to send electronic letters to the editor. Last month, I even found an article on the Internet in an airline flight magazine. I don't read the National Inquirer (well, other than the cover when waiting in the supermarket checkout lane) but I would not be surprised if they had articles claiming that extra-terrestrials were monitoring the email traffic and were participating in some of the mailing lists. ( Come to think of it, that might explain some of the postings I've seen recently. Some of those "people" do seem to be particularly clueless.)

All this attention is flattering to those of us who have been proselytizing this technology for years. The problem is that I don't see any logical reason for the current attention. The Internet has been around and growing for more than a decade. Sure, its big (almost 2 million interconnected computers world wide) and growing fast ( more than 7% a month), but its been big and growing fast for quite a while now. It was certainly growing at least at this rate when Time & Newsweek were forcasting national video parlors for the kiddies instead of international on-line, real time, interactive current affairs in the schools.

I'm sure it helps to have a national administration that understands something about data networking; "understanding the gestalt of a gigabit" (whatever that means) as Clinton said about Gore. But, administrations have 'understood' things in the past that never broke the surface tension of carefully cultivated ignorance that is the modus-operandi of the 4th estate. Since I'm a member and a trustee, it would be nice to think the attention is a result of activities of the Internet Society. Last month's meeting drew over 850 people from 91 countries. But, I expect that would be hubris.

That does not leave me with other rationale than the natural herd instinct of the press. To paraphrase MIT's Dave Clark, they stand around in clusters like penguins on an ice flow. If one of them slips in and does not disappear, the rest suddenly think that the water is fine and jump on in.

I hope it is more than that. Perhaps we in the Internet have passed some sort of threshold of penetration. Because of that penetration, more people are reaching the understanding that, as I said in an earlier column, connectivity - data connectivity - is the "killer application" that the media and the phone companies have been waiting for, and they may even finally see that it has been here all along for a growing number of us. If you have any other explanations, please let me know.

Disclaimer of the month: From Jason Hernandez: "My typing == my opinion. Read the trade magazines for my employer's opinion."