RealTime IT News

A Time To Reflect on Good Fortune

At times like the holiday season, it's easy to forget how global the Internet is becoming. In the United States, we forget that many of the broad assumptions we're making aren't valid for people with whom we share the Internet.

It's a lesson I've learned in recent months, as more of the e-mail I receive comes from places like Serbia, New Delhi, and Naples. So as the U.S. begins its holiday season, celebrating Thanksgiving this week and looking forward to the new year, I'll suggest many Americans resolve to gain a greater appreciation for the effect globalization will have on their lives.

Those of us who work full-time on the Internet have plenty of reason to be grateful. We are able to enjoy a feeling of exhilaration from working at this time in history. There's a sense of great progress taking place, from the opening of new lines of communication to new forms of commerce. For a generation that grew up believing anything is possible, the Internet has become the place to realize impossible dreams.

At times, we may be guilty of overestimating the importance of some new technology. And we occasionally place too much emphasis on popularity--as though being well known is the same as being successful. But for the most part, the thousands of people who are building the infrastructure and paving the virtual streets are enjoying a never-to-be-repeated opportunity.

While the work goes on, there's rarely time to reflect on what's making it possible--the Internet's strength is often taken for granted. On most days, the only time people notice the underlying network is if they have a bad experience connecting to a site. Instead of marveling at how reliable the network is on most days, the typical reaction is to curse the occasional problems.

Just a couple of years ago, there was a widespread belief that the global network was about to crash. The groundswell of pessimism was almost as bad as the hysteria surrounding Y2K. The theory was that the surge of new users would overwhelm network access points, creating a gridlock that would crash routers and hubs around the world. Contributing to the fear were concerns that an over-reliance on Cisco routers was making the Internet susceptible to a single bug or virus.

Of course, no doomsday arrived. In fact, as Internet users continue to arrive, bandwidth seems more plentiful than ever. Cable modems are being introduced in pockets around the country, and DSL introductions are spreading at a rapid pace. At the end of 1998, multimedia growth has become so popular that two of the most popular sites on the Web, Real.com and Broadcast.com, are devoted solely to streaming audio content.

In the past year we also survived another milestone that threatened to shut down the network. As the United States government's support for the domain name system ended, a combination of private and public cooperation made the transition happen unnoticed by the vast majority of users.

Not long after this occasion came the death of Jon Postel, the man who had for years dedicated himself to oversight of the domain name system as a public service. It is a worthy tribute to Postel's legacy that the transition and his own death did not disrupt the network he helped to build. Like the hundreds of systems engineers who worked alongside him, one of Postel's guiding principles was that the Internet was built to be strong, reliable, and capable of surviving any threat.

The Net has been a source of new wealth, but even more important, it's a source of new ideas that is stronger than ever and is gaining strength with each new season.