The impact of the internet of today

The number of internet nodes rose from 14 in 1971 to 23 billion connections in 2021. Some numbers of today’s internet:

23 billion connections

1.9 billion websites

4.72 billion users

Map of the internet of 2021

Numbers show how big it is, it doesn’t properly indicate the impact on our everyday lives. The internet now has more than fifty years of history. The way it impacted our lives went slowly, but when looking at human history on a larger scale, it happened extremely fast. Actually so fast that it almost went unnoticed…

Technology may seem cold and inhuman, but the internet blended very natural with our lives. It is very uncommon to point this out. To say, “Strange, everything I did today was online”. That the internet is everywhere goes without questioning. That the internet is expanding to every corner of our existence seems natural.

When adding up the numbers, the history of growth and all the ways we use the internet, there are however a lot of questions. And these questions that arise from this technology aren’t technological itself. They are more philosophical and scientific.

Hopefully this subject area on connectivity becomes a special subject area on its own, like for example artificial intelligence already has become.

Where is the internet? Everywhere.

On the morning of October 29, 1969, Leonard Kleinrock the man who first proposed the term networking, woke up in Los Angeles. It was a somewhat cold morning that day, but the birds were singing loud outside. Leonard turned around for a second. It was Saturday, and normally he used this time to train Karate at the local dojo or go on a nature trip with his kids.

But this was not a normal day. It was the day of the birth of the internet. So Kleinrock finally stood up and fixed his hair, of which his black curls were in all directions. He buttoned his shirt and grabbed his car keys from the nightstand. Then he drove to UCLA for several preparations with his colleagues of the ARPANET team.

The goal was clear, to send the message “LOGIN” to his colleagues who were waiting 150 miles north at SRI International, then known as Stanford Research Institute.

The computers contained at UCLA were in high cabinets with tape drives. The terminal where Kleinrock sits looks more like a mixing console of a music studio than a modern PC. After having dinner with his colleagues, the preparations were finally finished:

“OK, it’s already late. Let’s call SRI and say that we will send the message ‘LOGIN’ to their ARPANET connected computer.” Please log everything in our logs!”

UCLA Log of 29 October, 1969

Now first type the letter “L”, and now the “O”. Crash! Wait, what?!? Then a call from SRI, we received “LO”. Great, we sent a message! The internet was born with a cry.

It’s the morning of October 29, 2019. The internet almost turns 50. In Zaandam, just above Amsterdam, I wake up. First thing I do is grab my smartphone. Only 4 degrees Celsius outside. Cold. Then I see I got a new message, “LOL”. Great, my mother liked the pictures I send last night of our cat Luna. And like most of the older people, the message she sends back is rather short (though a letter longer than the first message on the internet).

I go down, open my laptop to see if there are any emails from work. Ai, a crash last night on the servers of the supermarket I work for. Microsoft Teams call at 10:30 A.M. I quickly eat breakfast and brush my teeth. Then at the dinner table, I log in at the customer site to see what happened.

At twelve o’clock I am still in the call and my colleague shares his screen. Finally, we find the root-cause of the bug. Turns out some messages with diacritic signs went wrong. Time for lunch. First go to bbc.com to see if anything happened in the world.

In the afternoon, I Google a lot to find a solution to fix the bug that caused the crash. Turns out, I can copy some code from the developer website StackOverflow. Easy-peasy.

After some other Zoom and Teams meetings, work is finally done. Let’s order something online at justeat.com. I order a pokébowl because I want to eat fast, so I can still cycle while it’s slowly getting dark. Totally dark outside, I return home and synchronize my smartwatch with my smartphone, which sends my result to Strava on the internet to impress my friends (or not).

It’s 10:30 P.M. and I am still scrolling through my Facebook timeline. It’s really time to sleep…

Who uses the internet? Everyone?

A pretty normal day in the 21st century. You don’t have to go to a special place to get to the internet. It’s there when we wake up, and it’s there when we go to bed. It’s everywhere and also in everything we do. We don’t need large devices like in 1969, but we have small phones in our pockets. We have internet at home, at work, in the train, on the plane and even on the International Space Station.

You use it, I use it, my mother uses it, everyone uses it. You don’t have to be an award-wining engineer who studied at MIT, like Kleinrock, anymore. Actually, children just a few years old find their way on YouTube. How the internet changed our world…

Children communicating with each other

Metcalfe‘s law

The ever expanding internet is no coincidence. The internet is connecting our world, like we make connections in our brain. And like every connection reshapes our brain and determines who we are, every new internet connection does the same to the world.

Metcalfe‘s law states that the value of a network follows the number of possible connections that can be made.

Though he applied this to telecommunication devices, the same can be applied to the number of people and things that are connected to the internet. But this value is a more mathematical value. The real value for the internet lays in the information weight of those connections.

In the brain, when you train something very hard, the connections become stronger. This principle “reinforcement learning” is also used in artificial intelligence:

Positive reward in reinforcement AI can make the weight of a connection in a network stronger. DeepMind, like Google a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., arguments even that this principle alone is enough for reaching general AI.

But there is also a snowball-effect within the network effects that make more connections and stronger connections. In the Matrix, there is a “real” world and a “digital” world that are (almost) indistinguishable. This virtual world is like a subworld of the real world.

With the internet however, all connections are exactly how the world is reshaped. We could say the internet is eating the world and what’s real or virtual cannot be distinguished anymore. It’s thus not the World Wide Web, IOT, Cloud, AI, VR and so on that are the driving forces of our connected world, but the internet itself.

Like our brain reshapes who we are, the internet reshapes the world what it is and everything within. Including ourselves.

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