the internets

The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated.1

This thesis doesn’t fill me with hope. The whole concept of “the Internet” is already complicated enough so the idea of multiple Internets is more than daunting. And just look at the language others use to describe it. For example, in the Pew Research report cited above, David Brin, author and futurist, responded,

There will be many Internets. Mesh networks will self-form and we’ll deputize sub-selves to dwell in many places.

What does that mean? I turned to Wikipedia, of course, for help and read that

mesh network is a network topology in which each node (called a mesh node) relays data for the network. All nodes cooperate in the distribution of data in the network.”2

And I still don’t know what that means. So I read a little further.

A mesh network can be designed using a flooding technique or a routing technique. When using a routing technique, the message is propagated along a path, by hopping from node to node until the destination is reached. To ensure all its paths’ availability, a routing network must allow for continuous connections and reconfiguration around broken or blocked paths, using self-healing algorithms. A mesh network whose nodes are all connected to each other is a fully connected network. Mesh networks can be seen as one type of ad hoc network. Mobile ad hoc networks (MANET) and mesh networks are therefore closely related, but MANET also have to deal with the problems introduced by the mobility of the nodes.”3

And I still don’t know what that means. Well, I know a bit about what it means since I once was a software engineer which put me in a geek-and-nerd-rich environment (hey, I am at least part geek/nerd, so I can throw those terms around as attributes of others) where conversations about algorithms, nodes, and topologies were an every day occurrence.  But I wouldn’t ever try to explain that to my father, or my husband.

But let’s go to the end of Wikipedia’s definition of mesh networking.

The self-healing capability enables a routing based network to operate when one node breaks down or a connection goes bad. As a result, the network is typically quite reliable, as there is often more than one path between a source and a destination in the network. Although mostly used in wireless situations, this concept is also applicable to wired networks and software interaction.4

From the above, I conclude that Mr. Brin is looking forward to many different Internets that will always deliver all messages to the right persons at the right time, but no one will be able to predict just how that happens. But deputizing ourselves to live in many different places? What does that mean? Do we need multiple avatars to denote which sub-self we are at any time when connecting to the Internet(s)?

Another commentator on this topic, Sean Mead, senior director of strategy and analytics for Interbrand, predicted,

The Internet will generate several new related networks. Some will require verified identification to access, while others will promise increased privacy.5

Great. More networks, some promising privacy, some probably requiring two- or three-step verification. Privacy and Security. Two sides of the same coin. Or maybe they are both on the same side of the coin with Convenience being on the other side. You can have one side, but not both. It is already difficult enough to keep track of passwords, especially since some sites require using special characters while others consider those characters invalid and some sites require a password be at least 12 characters long and others won’t allow more than 8 characters. And never, ever, ever use the same password for more than one site. Right?

I already live in a world of multiple Internets. There is the public Internet I use to type these words. Then there is the closed enclave where I spend time when I am at work, an intranet. And since one government agency can’t let another government agency share the same network, there is an extranet which isn’t public, doesn’t include everything on our intranet, but does provide a collaboration space for selected persons from multiple federal agencies to work together without having to resort to sneakernet to transfer information. None of those offer me much privacy. The Heartbleed virus that required me to change all of my passwords proved the lack of security of the Internet. I’m considering no longer doing any banking on line. The price of a first-class postage stamp may just be a bargain. And then along came news last week of the latest Internet Explorer vulnerability.  As for the intranet and extranet – each time I access them, I first have to check the box to indicate I understand I have no right to privacy and that anything I do on those networks may be viewed by others.

The commentator I think really got it right is Ian Peter, pioneer Internet activist and Internet rights advocate, who wrote,

The Internet will fragment. Global connectivity will continue to exist, but through a series of separate channels controlled by a series of separate protocols. Our use of separate channels for separate applications will be necessitated by security problems, cyber policy of nations and corporations, and our continued attempts to find better ways to do things.6

Some of those better ways to do things will hopefully resolve the ever increasing problem of keeping track of passwords and security icons and reliance on availability of smart phones to receive text messages with numeric keys to permit accessing accounts. As I age, my memory doesn’t always retain those details in easily accessed corners of my brain. If any software application or network access sets up matching names with faces as a password security system, everyone over the age of 55 will likely be lost on the Internets.

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