Wake up and smell the subjects

I’ve been amazed since the Net first came along at how poorly it’s understood, even by people whose job is understanding it. Which includes me.

The more I’ve looked into the problem of Understanding The Net, the more I’ve realized that it’s a kind of infrastructure — yet not very structural. How can protocols be structural? Easy: when you rely on them, which is what infrastructure does for you. It’s common stuff that everybody relies on.

Anyway, I just put up Why Internet & Infrastructure Need to be Fields of Study, in Linux Journal. See whatcha think.

2 comments

  1. Brett Glass’s avatar

    Doc, the problem you seem to be wrestling with here is that the Internet is, by design, not infrastructure at all. It’s a collection of protocols and agreements that are used to allow widely varied pieces of infrastructure to communicate and exchange information. Those pieces of infrastructure are independently owned, independently managed, and independently operated and have different rules, but they can participate in the Internet because of the protocols and agreements to connect.

    Remember the Internet’s origins. It was formed by a group of universities and military contractors each wanted — in fact needed — to retain the right to run its own network its own way, with its own policies. (The schools, for example, needed to police student use of the network to keep students from misbehaving, hogging resources, or engaging in antisocial or harmful behavior.) And yet, these entities wanted the people on their networks to be able to talk to one another, too. The problem which the Internet solved was allowing these diverse networks to remain independent and yet still communicate.

    The domain name system makes this very explicit. Control of each domain is “delegated” to an entity, which then in turn can delegate subdomains. At each level, there is a clearly defined entity which is in control (hence the word “domain”). And yet the whole system plays together.

    In short, I think that you’re looking at a fence and seeing just the fence posts rather than the wires that connect the fence posts together… even though they’re what make the fence a fence rather than a group of isolated posts.

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Brett, I agree with everything you say, and you have a major tip of my hat for doing the hard work of keeping an actual service delivery business up and running — with wireless, no less, and in a part of the world where it is said that a weathervane is “an anvil hanging by a chain.”

    I’ll grant that I’m looking at a fence and seeing posts instead of wires. And I’ll ask that you consider that you may be doing something similar. I don’t mean that personally, either. It’s something we all do, and can’t help doing. Perspectives are required.

    My point with the post at LJ is that we all look past our given frames, and at least sanction both the Net and infrastructure as subjects worthy of deeper study than either has received so far — especially since the overlap between the two is a zone fraught with much disagreement and either partial or mis- understandings. Of each other, as well as the subjects at hand.

    More context. It’s still early. The Net, no matter how one tells its history, is still a new thing. Hell, human history is still pretty new too. The human diaspora began to spread from Africa only a few dozen millennia ago. As species go, that’s a blink in time.

    Anyway, thanks for weighing in. I’ll wave while I fly from Boston to SB on Sunday. And I’ll make a silent re-commitment to spend some quality time in Wyoming one of these years. Speaking as a geology freak alone, it’s a damn candy store of treats.

Comments are now closed.