Timothy M. Denton

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Playing hockey with an invisible puck

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What is the nature of the Internet? I ask this question as I listened to a discussion of Internet security features. The more fundamental answers to the question can be found in one of my articles, "The Internet Illustrated" on this site. But there is another approach to thinking about the Internet, as an addressing system for reaching endpoints. Forgive me if all this is obvious.

The Internet's addressing and routing functions are

  • logical
  • invisible
  • subject to rapid change
  • require that even its adepts be continually educated.

Its working are under constant attack. Machines constantly probe for security breaches in the logical architecture. By constantly I mean at thousands upon thousands of hits a minute.

Addresses are arrangements of numbers that cause electrons and photons to flow towards destinations. A manipulation of numbers can radically distort traffic flows to unintended places. In the vastness of address space, some addresses can remain undiscovered, and possibly undiscoverable.

The Internet operates exclusively through computers and shares the characteristics of computers. Formal logical architectures are at the core of the workings. Vast increases of bandwidth and computing power are constants. But the one thing that became clear to me as I listened to the speakers today was that, to a great degree, it is unfolding in time. It is unplanned, subject to adventitious errors and change, its course is not clear, its characteristics are subject to change, it is even subject to disruptive innovation in the sense that Clayton Christiansen spoke about.

If the Internet seems confused and confusing, it is because, near as I can figure out, it is like playing hockey with an invisible puck. The existence of a scrum of players digging for a puck in the corner does not signify that there is actually a puck there. The breakaway towards the goalie by the forward may look brilliant, but maybe he has no puck on his stick. And to pursue the metaphor, the only time the puck is detected is when a goal is scored, by means of large amounts of money flowing into someone's bank account.

See if the metaphor is productive for you. The invisible puck would explain why so many ideas, like for instance ENUM, or even IPv6, may turn out to be another of the things that looked like the pucks but were not.

 

 

 

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Sunday, 25 August 2019
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