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Old wine in new bottles.

By: Scott Bradner

This week has been a target rich environment for a columnist. Apple is again aggressively trying to make itself irrelevant, a bill was just introduced in congress that would almost totally block access to non-commercial encryption technology (S. 974), Time magazine goes rather overboard on a pornography-is-taking-over-the-Internet story that turns out to be based on rather less real data than it would have you believe, the U.S. DOD just awarded a very large contract to support electronic communications that seems to ignore the recommendations of the FERP report, etc., etc. After a bit of confusion in the 'too many flavors of ice cream' tradition, I thought I'd take a look at the contention that the Internet is past its prime even before it has gotten there.

A lot of people seem to be picking up on Cliff Stole's claim that the Internet is both too much of a good thing and not enough at the same time. As the number of users of the Internet and the Internet-connected services continues to expand at an astounding rate, so seeming does the volume of the claims that there is nothing to flock to and the claims that is all too confusing anyway.

On a plane flight from some semi-random airline hub back home this week I read an article in Inc. that seemed to put all of the current anti-Internet feelings into one pile. (I'm working from memory here since I was honorable enough not to take the airline copy home with me and now I find that the issue is no longer on the stands.) This quite well written article noted just about all of the arguments presented by the current crop of nay-sayers. ( A disclaimer here, I was able to get an upgrade for that flight and the booze was at no additional cost.)

Basically, the charges in this article and elsewhere include: the Internet is not secure and people can steal credit card numbers, no one runs the Internet so you can't get something fixed, you can't tell if the people behind that web page are crooks, you get pornography thrown in your face, the Internet is unreliable, because the Internet is free (or at least there is no use-based charging) it will get as over crowded as CB radio did, you can't find anything out there, and if you try to find anything you are wasting your companies' resources (including your salary). As I write this, a message just came over com-priv saying that the www was useless and will soon die. There are many others but this is enough to get the flavor. Must be quite a terrible thing, this Internet, as Johnny said "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

For many of these complaints we are talking about old wine in new bottles, the method may be new but the operation is familiar.

Laws had to be created to require stores to give customers the carbon from their credit card transactions lest the clerk pocket it and get access to the sacred number. A phone call from Boston to Sandpoint Idaho will cross at least 3 phone companies, who do you call when the call does not go through? I get a few hundred catalogs every month, how do I know if the sender is a crook? There was a story on the Boston news yesterday of someone who got a spam phone call from a dial-a-dirty-lady 'service'.

In all these cases, the problems have not curtailed the function. People still use credit cards, make phone calls and order things they suddenly find they have a dire need for from catalogs they have never seen before.

It is true that people can waste quite a bit of time surfing the web in the company of nuns from the Chech Republic, but that type of initial fascination is not all that rare and it fades with time. Compare the use of a Game-Boy when it first shows up to a few weeks later.

This is not to say that the Internet is beyond reproach but lets be ready to acknowledge that some of these roads are familiar.

disclaimer: Being subject to laws regulating historic buildings, Harvard is constantly trying to put new wine in old bottles, but the above vinegar is mine alone.