NYTimes.com Article: Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do

khare@alumni.caltech.edu khare@alumni.caltech.edu
Fri, 3 Jan 2003 07:51:08 -0500 (EST)

This article from NYTimes.com 
has been sent to you by khare@alumni.caltech.edu.

I have to admit, this was a persuasive article. I think I'm going to try it out -- much as the book editor compromised, use Internet for historical references and internet for current ones. 

The capitalization bit is definitely a signal... Kahn aside.



Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do

December 29, 2002


SOMETHING will be missing when Joseph Turow's book about
families and the Internet is published by M.I.T. Press next
spring: The capital I that usually begins the word

Mr. Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for
Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, studies
how people use online technology and how that affects their
lives. He has begun a small crusade to de-capitalize
Internet - and, by extension, to acknowledge a deep shift
in the way that we think about the online world. 

"I think what it means is it's part of the everyday
universe," he said. 

Capitalization irked him because, he said, it seemed to
imply that reaching into the vast, interconnected ether was
a brand-name experience. 

"The capitalization of things seems to place an inordinate,
almost private emphasis on something," he said, turning it
into a Kleenex or a Frigidaire. "The Internet, at least
philosophically, should not be owned by anyone," he said,
calling it "part of the neural universe of life." 

But, he said, dropping the big I would sent a deeper
message to the world: The revolution is over, and the Net
won. It's part of everyone's life, and as common as air and
water (neither of which starts with a capital). 

Some elements of the online world have already made the
transition. Internet often appears with a lowercase I on
the Internet itself - but then, spelling online is
dreadful, u kno. 

Although most everybody still capitalizes World Wide Web,
words like "website," and the online journals known as
weblogs (or, simply, blogs) are increasingly lowercase. Of
course, the Internet's capital I is virtually engraved in
stone, since Microsoft Word automatically capitalizes the
lowercase "i" unless a user overrides its settings. 

For Mr. Turow, the first step in his campaign was
persuading his book editor to enlist. She compromised,
dropping to lowercase in newly written parts and retaining
the capital in older articles reproduced in the book. 

Then he nudged Steven Jones, a communications professor at
the University of Illinois at Chicago and president of the
Association of Internet Researchers. Mr. Jones was cool to
the idea, until he looked at copies of Scientific American
from the late 19th century, and noticed that words for new
technologies, like Phonograph, were often uppercased. 

Today, Mr. Jones is a crusader himself. 

"I think the
moment is right," he said, to treat the Internet "the way
we refer to television, radio and the telephone." 

He shared his view with a few hundred close friends last
month at a meeting of the National Communication
Association, an educators' group. "I just noticed
everybody's attention kind of snapped forward," he said. 

"I'm used to having people say nice things," he said.
"We're scholars, not wrestlers. But this time I was struck
by the number of people who were saying the equivalent of,
`Right on!' " 

DICTIONARY editors, though, have dismissed Mr. Turow
politely but firmly. 

Dictionaries do not generally see themselves as making the
rules, said Jesse Sheidlower, who runs the American offices
of the Oxford English Dictionary. 

"What dictionaries do is reflect what's out there," he
said. He and his fellow dictionary editors would think
seriously about such changes after newspapers make them, he

That could take a while. Allan M. Siegal, a co-author of
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and an
assistant managing editor at the newspaper, said that
"there is some virtue in the theory" that Internet is
becoming a generic term, "and it would not be surprising to
see the lowercase usage eclipse the uppercase within a few

He said, however, that the newspaper was unlikely to make
any change that was not supported by authoritative

Time to ask Robert Kahn, who is as responsible as anyone
for the creation of the Internet, having helped plan the
original network that preceded it and having created, with
Vinton Cerf, the language of computer networks, known as
TCP/IP, that allowed the vast knitting-together of systems
that gave birth to the modern medium. 

He cares deeply about the name, having led a fight for
years to ensure that its use is not restricted or abused by
the corporation that received the trademark in 1989. 

A settlement was reached two years ago with the company now
known as Concord EFS. The company agreed that it would not
dun people who used the word, which meant that "Internet"
now belongs to everybody, Mr. Kahn said. 

"We defended the right of people to use the word `Internet'
for what we think of as the Internet," he said. 

THAT was the important fight, according to Mr. Kahn.
"Whether you use a cap I or little I" hardly matters, he

Which leads us back to a profound question for Mr. Turow:
Don't you have anything better to do? 

"That's a really interesting question," he said. "I was an
English major. I'm very sensitive to the nuances of words,
and I'm very concerned about the nuances, the feel that
words have within the society." 

Fair enough; Perhaps the next big thing, after all, will be
small. At least initially.


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