This morning Ars Technica called my attention to an incredibly ill informed Wall Street Journal opinion piece trying to downplay or eliminate the government’s role in creating the Internet. In making his argument, the author makes the mistake of conflating Ethernet and the Internet. My problem with the piece goes deeper than that, as I explain in a comment I made on the Wall Street Journal’s Site
The Internet isn’t the same thing as Ethernet. L. Gordon Crovitz’s failure to understand the distinction undermines the point he is trying to make, but in the end that doesn’t matter, because this piece isn’t journalism. It doesn’t even rise to the level of the editorial page of a high school newspaper. It is little more than stoned adolescent fantasy. Its the sort of silly stuff stoned college freshmen waste hours on in their dorm rooms when they should be doing their history reading.
The Internet is a complex phenomenon. It is the result of interactions between other complex phenomenon. It is ridiculous to argue that it would have come about if one of the major forces present at its inception, gestation, and early maturation had never existed.
The Federal government provided substantial funding, staff, facilities and strategic direction for the development the Internet and ancestors. Federal grants and state funding flowed to the public and private universities that developed the Internet. Federal and state money underwrote Internet access for undergraduates across disciplines which helped demonstrate and generate demand for commercial Internet access. Federal, state and local regulation helped create a regulatory environment that allowed the earliest dial-up internet service providers to take hold, and enabled the BBS systems that proceeded many of them. And lets not forget the importance of Moore’s Law. We wouldn’t have the Internet we have today if we didn’t have cheap semiconductors and integrated circuits, and we wouldn’t have had those things if the federal government hadn’t helped kindle the semiconductor industry with piles of defense money until it got to the point where it could be self-sustaining.
Those are just some of the highlights of how government was an essential factor in the creation of the Internet. Perhaps it could have happened without the government’s involvement, but it didn’t. If L. Gordon Crovitz and the WSJ are going to convincingly argue for an alternate reality, you are going to have a much better command of the facts of reality than L. Gordon Crovitz and the Wall Street Journal’s editors have demonstrated.
Time to put away the bong, boys and get serious because understanding the difference between Ethernet and the Internet is just the start. Or perhaps its time for the rest of us to stop taking the WSJ seriously and read it like we’d read an overdue history essay from a stoned college freshman.
I’m quite forgiving of stoned college freshmen (been there, done that), but as long as the Wall Street Journal is still treated like more than just another sleazy Rupert Murdoch tabloid, I’m going pretend it should be held to higher standard.