Sunday, February 3, 2008

Speed on the Internet: Its Dimensions and Significance

We talk rather frequently these days about the "speed" of our internet connections. Those in the know understand that speed also equals "bandwidth." Therefore, "broadband internet" is better than the narrower bandwidths that preceded it. Speed has several meanings and connotations when applied to the internet.
  • One important meaning is the length of time from when you touch a keyboard button on a PC, mobile phone or PDA, until the device displays your input. For users of the internet, this meaning of speed is very important, and it helps to explain why, once someone has gotten accustomed to fast, broadband internet connections, they're unwilling to go back to slower interaction with the web.
  • Another meaning of speed has to do with bandwidth and how much data can be transmitted per second or other unit of time via different networks. In other words, I can say that I'm connected to the web at 54 Mbps or 100 Mbps. The vast majority of non-technically-inclined people in today's world probably tune out such explanations as irrelevant to their own, day-to-day concerns.
  • In practical, human terms, yet another meaning of speed is how quickly a video segment will load and play on your computer, mobile phone, pda or other device. As with the response to keyboard input, the goal here is instantaneous response.
  • In today's world, another way of thinking about speed is in relation to politics. Universal access to speedy networks equals the possibility for democratic politics and the chance for an information society in which everyone prospers. I'm not suggesting that content and other factors are irrelevant, but equal access to information and equal capability to disseminate information seem to demand speed on the internet and through the world's networks.
  • Speed and virtual reality (aka Cyberspace). It is also the speed, or bandwidth of internet connections that makes possible Cyworld in Korea, Second Life in the U.S. and other world's of virtual reality. Do these worlds have a history, like the real world? If so, how is the history different from and related to the history of the real world we inhabit? Most importantly, how fast is the history evolving? Is it accelerating?
In the final analysis, there can be no doubt that speed is important. The reason I emphasize this point is that some people in the United States, Britain and other countries are still questioning strategy for building-out broadband internet networks that will allow all citizens to access information with blazing speed. Speed matters. It matters a lot. P.S. I'm enjoying the speed access to the internet that living in South Korea affords me! More on this topic in future posts.

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