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Close by from far away

I'm writing this somewhere over the South China Sea early into my flight back home from INET'97 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Going 12 hours worth of timezones takes about twice that amount of time in cramped airline seats and I continue to be amazed at what they call food up here.)

INET is the Internet Society's annual meeting. It brings together hundreds of Internet luminaries, politicians, and more than a thousand other people interested in or concerned with the Internet to explore the current state and issues surrounding the Internet, its growth, and its impact. (For the few of you who do not know, the Internet Society (ISOC) is an international membership organization whose mission is to foster the growth of the Internet and to support organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which are key to the continued development of the Internet. It has both corporate and individual members and, as an elected trustee of the ISOC, I'd like to encourage those corporations who benefit from the Internet and those individuals who one way or another are in the Internet biz to consider joining if they are not already members. If you are interested please send me mail or take a look at the ISOC web page

As it has for the last 4 or 5 years, there was a week long developing countries workshop associated with the INET meeting. There were about 130 students from about 75 countries this year. The workshop is designed to provide the students with background, information and training so that they can help create or expand the 'Net in their own country. I was one of the instructors in the network management track and it was great working with the students and getting to understand what is, or is not, going on Internet-wise in their own countries.

One thing that particularly struck me this last week is how, for much of what I do in the way of work from day to day, it did not matter that I was half a world away. The Internet connectivity was fantastic at both the workshop site and at the conference. This allowed me to set up my laptop to duplicate my at-work and at-home configurations with no functionality and little performance penalty. To me this was a portend of the future of this thing we now call the Internet. If done right, and the connectivity for INET was done right, the 'Net not only keeps people from knowing you are a dog (as the New Yorker cartoon put it) but also keeps people from knowing where the dog is. The only major difficulty I found is not one that will quickly be solved by technology. It was quite a bit harder to be working out of sync time-wise with the people I needed to interact with. Geting up as they were going home from work did make things a bit less efficient.

It will be a rather different world when the effect of distance is mitigated to the extent that I experienced at INET. (But it will still be very nice to get back to my own house & SO.)

disclaimer: Harvard does not have a presence in Kuala Lumpur (yet) so the above are my observations.