Hi world! It’s me, the internet

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From: SWITCHING PROTOCOLS

Do you remember when we used to write “Internet” with a capital “I”? Now everything is in lowercase, as if the Internet could be any old “Internet”. When did this change happen and why didn’t I notice it at the time? Also, is it possible that the decision (wait, who made it?) To start calling the Internet as the Internet reflects – or worse, imposes – a significant shift in the way we think about technology?


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Dear ,

I remember the uppercase Internet “I”, like most people, I think, albeit in that hazy, blind way that is typical of our amnesic present. The convention now reads as dated, even archaic, like those allusions to Beauty, Truth and Nature in romantic poetry – as if we had once endowed the canvas (formerly the canvas) with all the grandeur of a Platonic form. I don’t think you are alone in your confusion as to when and how the change happened. History, even very recent, is a victim of our accelerated age. The news feed disappears forever into the void, like the Greek parable of oblivion in which a man endlessly braids a string of straw while a donkey, crouching behind him, eats the finished end.

It sounds like you are already familiar with the Internet vs. Internet debate. For those new to it, I must point out that capitalization was not designed to signal transcendence, uniqueness, or a smell of the absolute. Quite the contrary: he pointed out that the internet we used was just a particular iteration of the larger category of internets, just like the Constitution of our nation (which we capitalize on, like all proper names). is just one of many national constitutions (which, as a generic name, remains in lowercase). The Internet we know and use today was born out of the Pentagon’s Arpanet network (aka, the network of advanced research projects agencies) in the late 1960s, but throughout the 1980s and 1990s this was just one of many instantiations of the Internet Protocol. suite used by educational and commercial networks. Eventually, Arpanet would be known as the Internet. Once it became the World Wide Web, it was added to the definite article:the Internet – although the capital “I” served as an implicit reminder that this was just one example of technology, an Internet among the internets.

It is common for technologies to switch from proper names to generic names as they are incorporated into culture. Some forward-looking voices predicted, as early as the late 1990s, that the Internet would succumb to the same fate as television and radio, media that were first capitalized in the same way, until ‘they are part of our everyday landscape. In 2004, WIRED.com – then separate from the print periodical, WIRED magazine – went lowercase. (When WIRED magazine’s parent company, Condé Nast, bought the website two years later, the standard capitalization was re-imposed.) It is telling that many of the first publications to move to “the Internet” were magazines created in line, which proves the adage that fish, let alone, are aware of the water in which they swim.

One of the common arguments in favor of decapitalization – that the capital ‘I’ was too loud and intrusive – reflected, in an interesting way, the aspirations of digital technologies themselves. Mark Weiser, the Xerox computer scientist who coined the term “ubiquitous computing”, spoke enviously of the day when computers “disappeared into the background”, weaving themselves “into the fabric of everyday life until which they no longer stand out ”. As more sites and publications began to move to a more modest “Internet”, it seemed like a tacit recognition that these technologies had managed to become invisible, that we have now entered and left cyberspace – a passage once. marked, no doubt, by the foghorn of the dial-up modem – in the same elegant, thoughtless silence that accompanied our use of electricity or water. After the United Nations declared Internet access a basic human right in 2011, the lowercase internet became even more compelling (despite the fact that the report itself capitalizes the word): the information highway had become just another public good that everyone could access, like air or city parks, not some compelling proper name like Catholicism or the Democratic Party.

The turning point came in 2016, when the Associated Press announced that its Style book would change to lowercase. The Washington Post and The New York Times followed quickly, for fear of appearing out of step. (Just like WIRED magazine and WIRED.com.) “We want our rules of spelling, punctuation and usage to be largely invisible,” said the Times. The new convention was, indeed, so invisible, so transparent, that many people, like you, , has remained blissfully oblivious to the change – or to the outcry from those who staunchly opposed it.

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