On The Terranet

It has become apparent to me that the current Internet and the various other communications schemes that humans have come up with in the past few decades are not remaining distinct. The edges between the various networks are blurring and it appears an inescapable conclusion that the various networks will completely merge at some point. Yet the exact nature of the ultimate merged network is not obvious.

We started with the most obvious method of communication available to us. That is, immediate physical interaction involving verbal and nonverbal communication clues. Yet as we began to develop, the need for records and long distance communication led to the development of writing. And from there, things begin to snowball as learning increases.

We have the postal system and couriers for moving physical items from place to place. This includes, but is not limited to, written text and other schemes for moving communication from point to point. All of this operates on top of a transportation network which was established for moving people and goods from place to place. And these networks are not homogeneous networks, either; they developed over time and separate technologies for moving things merged into what we now see as a relatively coherent network.

Moving on, we needed to control the transportation so telegraphs and various other methods of communication happened. Since these were used to control communication or the transportation network was needed to install them, they generally follow the physical transportation network. Then comes along the telephone, and radio. And the communication world is revolutionized.

Then the computer comes along and schemes for connecting computers together appear. As time goes on, these networks are linked using other schemes, some of which involved using the telephone network. And now, the telephone network is connected using computers while computers use the now ubiquitous modem to connect over long distances.

From these early modem connections, we eventually see the development of the Internet from the Arpanet initiative and various other networks. Along the way, the Internet began to revolutionize communication. Yet it wasn’t until the commercialization of the Internet that things really changed.

With the commercialization of the Internet, it became practical for large numbers of people to use the Internet for a large number of things, and, as with any network, the value of the network goes up exponentially as more people connect to it. After all, what use is a single telephone on its own network? Or a modem with nothing to connect to? Or a telegraph with only one operator at one end? As the Internet has revolutionized communications, it has, itself, been revolutionized time and again as it expands to do more and more beyond the wildest dreams of its creators.

Yet the Internet is not the only communication network. The telephone network continues to flourish. Yet it has branched into wireless telephones which allow people to make telephone calls from their cars or from their campsite in the back country. And, indeed, the telephone network allows people to access the Internet using modems, or more recently, ADSL. But the link goes the other way, too. It is possible to place a telephone call from the Internet to a person on a telephone. And once you place the telephone call, it could easily be passing over the Internet to get to its destination at some point whether you used the Internet or not.

And this is not the only case where different networks are bridging the gulf between them. In the world of amateur radio, there are networks of repeaters which are linked using the Internet. Again the link works both ways although you still need a radio license to use the Internet gateway to this network. And for even longer, it has been possible to place telephone calls from a ham radio using things called autopatches. On top of it all, there has been packet radio for a long time which can easily bridge across the Internet or the reverse.

And we come to email and newsgroups. Messaging systems analogous to postal mail and bulletin boards. Email itself is not restricted to the Internet yet it easily transports across it. The same for newsgroups. Here we have relatively distinct networks which overlap. And email itself can transition from electronic to physical and enter the postal system with relative ease.

Over the past decades, radio and television have bombarded us with images and sound with their drama and their news reports. A function once supported mainly by the movie houses or word of mouth. Yet now, sound and images can be transmitted across the Internet, live or otherwise. The same wire which delivers a television or radio signal to your receiver can also deliver access to the Internet. Or the Internet could deliver access to your radio or television show. Again, we see a merging of networks.

It is clear that the trend of the past decades will continue. As time goes on, more and more of the global communication network will homogenize to the point that they are viewed as a single entity by those using it. While there might be different appliances to access different types of usage, it will always be possible to use a generalized device to view it all. At some point in the future, the Internet, the cable companies, the telephone companies, and other communication oriented processes, will likely move almost entirely into the world of the Internet – or something like it. Yet that network will look very different than the Internet and the various other networks that overlap with it. It will be the Internet. And the USENet. And email. And television. And telephones. It will not be simply the Internet any more.

We need a new name for this network that will be. One that brings to the fore the true implications of this network. Why not call it “Terranet”. This captures the true global implications of such a network yet still has the ability to be the buzzword that so many of us seem to need for these things in this day or instant messaging and cellular telephones and downloaded movies. Indeed, it could be argued that Terranet is here already.

Long Live Terranet!

William Astle
May 29, 2003… UTC

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