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The next war will be fought with atom bombs and the one after that with spears. -Harold Urey see all quotes

Is the WWW really worldwide ?

"I understand that you are fascinated by thoughts and the thought process ?" Kiran inquired.  I could see disbelief in his eyes.
"What makes you say so ?" I almost snapped, reacting to the cryptic question, delivered by a equally terse voice.  And I had committed my first mistake.
"You", came an even more cryptic answer.
I nearly told him that first of all, I was not a 'what', and secondly, he had no business to barge in late evening and try to divert my attention from the java control I was trying to design.  Everyone around me know that they've had it, if they even hint at separating me from my java, especially in the evenings.  Even Kiran did.

He must be referring to my web page, I realized.
"Hey, cool down ! Did you not receive any email today ?", I tried to help. I simply couldn't imagine what made him ask such difficult questions.  "Don't worry, I'll send enough to block your server, right away. Give me a couple of minutes".  It didn't seem to help. I looked at him, puzzled.  Then I looked at Oliver.

Oliver looked up from his transparency.  "Did your team lead scream at you ? Forgive him, he knows not what he does." I expected such sage advice from a person involved in educating others.  I nodded in approval.

"So you two won't help me."  Another terse statement ! Actually, 'terse' is an understatement. Would 'curt' do ? Anyway.

Kiran was to take part in a debate in his office. (So what's new I asked, trying to have my revenge, but was prevented the satisfaction by the cool answer that for a change the debate was official.) The subject of the debate was "Is the World Wide Web really world wide ?".
"Yes of course ! The name says it all !", me says, but looking at the stern expression on Kiran's face, add, "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't debate about it."

"Have you thought about it first ?"
"Great, lets hear you out".
Hey, both of them were ignoring me !
"When we use the term WWW, I interpret the world-wide-ness as being the world-wide availability of the network across network and platform boundaries. I do not think, that whomsoever coined this term, was at that time really concerned about the contents hosted by WWW being accepted or understood worldwide. In fact we clearly need to distinguish between the web itself as the medium of delivery and the contents of the individual web sites hosted by it."

I decided that I was no more going to be relegated to a position of trivial existence.
"Yes I agree with you about making the distinction.  But in spite of  that, I still feel that it is really not so world wide.  In terms of the medium, the entire world is not hooked yet, because more than half of the world is either poor or the ideology it subscribes to does not let them freely be a part of the WWW or both."
"And, remember that the contents expressed by most of the web sites today are in English", I said.
"I agree." - Kiran.
"Great." I had made my point.
"But ..." a pause.
We waited.

"I think the mere meaning of world-wide-ness is its technical capability - due to the fact that some universal protocol(s) is being employed by heterogeneous machines - of being available to a wide array of - different types of - computers and hence their users... something which spans the local network idiosyncrasies... well ?"

That last "Well ?" was unnervingly terse.  I must steel myself. I shouldn't be analyzing voice textures. It diverts attention from my primary goal - debate.

"Actually", I continued, "its only a question of being privileged enough.  If the focus of the Internet had remained education, I doubt whether it would have gone even this far.  The fact that it is used for business purposes has in my opinion propelled its growth thus far."
"And this very fact is going to limit it from spreading.  This does seem contradictory, but my logic is simple.  If majority of the people in this world start doing business, very few businesses would make money enough to invest continuously in this ever growing and ever demanding field of the Internet, in terms of faster and better technologies and tools."
"Also, if less people are into business, I don't know how a large number of people  - those not in business - are going to find money to be on the Internet and use its services."

Eureka, I thought.  That's a nice piece of theory I've thought about.  Now I must defend it tooth and tail, oops, I mean nail.

Kiran nodded. "As with any other resource, the Internet sure costs something... i.e. the use of the medium, though not the contents, many a times."
"But," (I knew it !), "that factor should not deter one from calling it a worldwide available media.  Television is available worldwide and is still something which not everybody can afford."
"Oliver ?".
I realised that Oliver was hardly responding.  But that came naturally to him. I admire people who can go on preparing transparencies while the air around them is thick, nay cloudy, with debate.

He looked at both of us, and looked at his screen again. He murmured something like "I've to finish with this tutorial with multimedia technology by midnight" and I think I heard the words "Macromedia Director". I told you I admired him.

I looked blankly at my design document.

"Technically, yes, it is worldwide, but one more question comes to my mind now, I thought aloud. "If it is not going to be worldwide content wise,  what is the use of it being worldwide technically ?  We might as well have separate unconnectable/unconnected networks for each country - this is just one type of isolation, there can be more."

"If the world-wide-ness is going to be hampered by language, ideology, etc, why the web in the first place ?"

"The reason the various network people opted for a common interconnectable network protocol was I think basically because they felt the need to exchange information, which would have to be in a common language.  And if this info doesn't reach maximum people then the purpose of being worldwide is defeated."

"Even if one accepts that TVs are world wide media without argument", I didn't think I agreed fully, "the web and the TV are not comparable.  The web was developed because an American wanted to talk to a Chinese".

That was a long enough piece of monologue.  Of course, people would now remind me that its different from a debate.

As expected, it was Kiran.
"Well, as far as I understand, the Internet was developed by researchers to exchange their research information / data.  So I believe that at that time they had not envisioned its use as it stands today.  I mean ordinary people using it for whatever purpose...  That is those inventors, I believe, were least bothered or I would say aware of its contents being appreciated / understood worldwide."

"I do not agree that the web was developed because an American wanted to talk to a Chinese. I think Internet was first used to exchange information between academic institutions within America itself... correct me if I am wrong".

"Yes but then it was not intended to be and neither was it called the WWW. The staring point of the WWW was when an American wanted to talk to a Chinese, that's what I meant."
"Okay, I didn't mean that American-Chinese thing literally !", I said quickly, "But I agree.", this, I said meekly.

"Continuing with your argument that the contents should be understood worldwide in a common language, I think English, for whatever reasons, is still a common language of communication across continents.  Please let me know any other language which is as widely known.  The percentage of people who understand it may be very low, albeit.  What alternative do we have, anyway ?"

"Esperanto perhaps ?  But that's wishful thinking. No, I agree with you".

But how could I agree on everything ? We were debating see !
"See a TV was never intended to target an international audience. It is still a highly localized medium of dispensing information !"

Kiran seized the opportunity.
"You are right.  But so was Internet !  That is my whole point !   In fact TV and Internet are quite similar in nature. Firstly, they both deliver some information.
Secondly,  initially, both were invented to cater to local audience. And lastly, both later happened to span continents - CNN, Star TV, HBO and WWW."

Now, I had to agree. I agreed.

A few moments of quietness reigned. Kiran had a smile on his face. Oliver's face was buried in some paper. I was trying to make something of this new face of the problem.

"If we try to make the Web worldwide in the sense as I have mentioned above, it will run into problems created by the language barriers. Just like the TV", I mused.

"This is a valid point.  And we should argue about which should be the common language of information interchange rather than whether a medium like WWW or TV is worldwide..  It is sufficient that the mediums are technically worldwide.  It
is up to the content providers to make the contents widely understood."

I thought that was about the end of it.  But I realized I had written of Oliver too easily.  He cleared his throat, to speak. He looked serenely at us, with a slight smile on this face.

"Now is the time to put in my two cents worth to the discussion."

"If you look at things carefully, many of the inventors who created things did not envisage the different uses of the thing they invented. Take Einstein for example. He did state e = mc^2 and put forth the theory that was finally converted into the nuclear bomb by other scientists. When he saw the results at Hiroshima, he became the most ardent speaker for nuclear abstinence. So, the point is that it is very difficult for  one person to think about all the aspects of a creation right in the beginning. It is for us, to make use of the created technology for advancement and
furthering its usage to the world. Along the path for getting the technology into place and being used for only good, there will be many rough patches where the technology will go through a bad phase. It is only through these bad phases that the good will look good and stay."

I was getting confused.

"Now about English. English is a common language for communication because England ruled many of the places where the technology is being developed right now."

"And no, the Internet was not created in America, but was created at Zurich at the
European lab for nuclear physics, for exchange of data by scientists. The creator of the net is (rather, was) a physicist."

"See, in fact, it is the diverse culture and the diverse language that will finally make things better. Language wise, we might find things difficult as things stand, but a I feel that therein lies the advantage. Knowing different languages and cultures makes us rich. If the world spoke only one language and had only one culture, it would be quite boring."

"Yes, it is up to the content providers to make the contents widely understood. This has always been the case, whether it be books or CDs or cassettes or any other medium of communication. The medium does not determine what we convey. It only decides the effectiveness of the matter being conveyed. In the end, it is the content brings out the most in the medium and not the other way round."

Sigh. I told you I admired him.

"Hmm... sounds like  you are almost on my track," and with a mischievous look at me, "and you seems to agree too ! What a surprise ! I mean an argument reached consensus !"

Let Kiran say what he wants, I am not going to take the bait.  He continued,
"So can I go ahead and assert, as a concluding remark : The argument "Is WWW really worldwide?" should really be phrased as "are contents of WWW really worldwide (understood) ?" instead."

We all nodded. I decided I was going to put all this down on paper.  I could do with something good for my homepage.

"Thanks a bunch, guys, bye.", and he dissappeared as abruptly as he had come.

Author : Your humble webmaster (Adapted from a discussion)
July 97
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