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Internet vs. internet

August 15, 2012

My friend, Microsoft Word, and I have this debate. He insists that the word “Internet” is spelled with a capital letter. I insist that it’s lowercase. We can’t seem to agree. I do a little research on my own. I discover that he’s right, partially.

It turns out, according to most style guides, that it should be capitalized, though it is not a hard and fast rule.

When you’re on the internet it’s like being at sea, you wouldn’t capitalize the sea. It’s like the ground or the air. It’s not a thing with a proper name. When you’re not on the Internet, when you’re on the shore, the sea looks like a vast, romantic, unexplored darkness that inspires sentimentality and the sea becomes the volatile deity, the Sea.

Lately, as much I hate to admit it, I’ve begun to agree with Microsoft Word. But not for the romantic reasons stated above or any strange fantasies. Well…

Imagine, if I can persuade you to do so for just a moment, not wishing, of course, for you to tax yourself unnecessarily, imagine a species from another planet, hovering in their spaceship above the Earth, cloaked in darkness, observing…

“Report, Commander,” barks the Captain.

“Yes, sir. It is a curious world, sir.”

“Save the editorials for the Sunday paper, son. Give me the skinny.”

“Yes, sir, and may I say, sir, your grasp of English is really quite astonishing.”

The Captain growls.

“On with it.”

“The planet seems to have fallen under the thrall of a non-sentient computerized being known as the Internet. More than 30% of the population spends their time interacting with the metastasizing creature.  They sit at terminals staring into screens through which to view the Internet. When they are not doing that, they carry around a mobile unit that also displays Internet. There are several that seem to live as two different people, one away from the Internet and one with it. They interact by dumping all of their personal information onto the Internet, which is then shared via the World Wide Web. Like God and the Holy Spirit.”

The Captain cocked his head.

“The 30% are sedentary for the most part and control most of the world’s wealth. They are well fed. Meanwhile, the other 70% of the population struggle to survive and seem to operate in slave-like fashion for the worshippers of the Internet. They are forced to work in factories or they are left to starve and die. The 30% while acknowledging it with sadness, cannot bring themselves away from the thrall of the Internet long enough to change anything. They continue to throw their lives as grist into the mill of the Internet. I would advise that we either avoid making contact with this world or we smash it to pieces with our missiles.”

“And what of our people on the ground? I think a withdrawal now would be catastrophic.”

“You’re right, sir. But what else can we do? At least withdrawal would eventually decrease some of the appeal of the Internet.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, sir, it seems that a favorite past time of these humans, is to take degrading pictures of our agents and share them on through the Internet.”

“What do you mean by ‘degrading’?”

“Well, sir, they are made to wear funny clothes and hats, and photographed in unflattering positions.”

“But surely the time spent photographing dogs is time spent away from the Internet: we are doing them a service.”

“But, sir, according to my observations, in most cases, they only do so in order to offer the photographs or video as a sort of offering to their god, the Internet.”

The Captain stared through the viewscreen at the glowing blue planet beneath him with sad eyes.

“By Dog, we shall double our efforts. Our agents will beg to be walked, they will whine for one more toss of the Frisbee. They will nudge the motionless foot with more fervor, they will break free from their leashes and lead the humans on thrilling chases. We will remain steadfast beside our human brothers and sisters until the terrible reign of the Internet is over and they wake up from their terrible dream. We will be waiting, to lick their hands and lead them into the sunlight. For Earth and for Major Canis!”

That is why I have come to agree with Microsoft Word. Capitalizing the word Internet gives it a more sinister appearance, evoking totalitarian nightmares. While the Internet is not that[1], it doesn’t hurt to remember that it could be used thusly and not by some unseen outside force, but by our own selves. It is important to remember the outside world.

I think I have a very different perspective of the Internet and the rise of the World Wide Web than most people my age. Having literally grown up with the technology, my friends and contemporaries act as if it is the most natural thing in the world, like a book. Though I was alive as the Digital Age came upon us and I was old enough to appreciate it, I was not offered much exposure to it. My grandparents[2] didn’t have a computer or the Internet. Just a rotary telephone and a micro cassette answering machine. (The phone was replaced by a touch-tone when I was sixteen after I spilled an orange pop on the old one.) It was a rather isolated existence, I will be the first to admit. But it forced me to form bonds with people that are much stronger than any that are held together with electronic glue. I don’t hate the Internet, by any means. It can be used be used to supplement human interaction. But I feel like we are living in a world where human interaction is beginning to simply supplement the Internet.


[1] Oh, God, I hope it’s not that.

[2] I was raised by my grandparents from the age of 8. (see “Even the trees get sick of the leaves…”)

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