One of my favourite moments in Father Ted – arguably the greatest sit-com ever – is in the very first episode, where Ted is patiently explaining to Dougal the difference between dreams and reality – but how ever hard Ted tries, Dougal just can’t or won’t see it...
This scene often springs to mind whenever I think about the internet and its status as the ‘information superhighway’ (or words to that affect), a much peddled utopian vision of limitless global connectivity that promises to transform the way we work, communicate and entertain ourselves, forever and ever, etc etc
Because it’s not, is it? In fact, as a transport mechanism for the type of services that are currently being touted by telecoms operators and content providers – IPTV, video on demand, ever fancier Web 2.0 mash-ups – it’s frankly starting to look a bit ropey. Rather than a 10-lane motorway, it increasingly resembles a tangle of narrow lanes and back roads, more suitable for horse-drawn carts than for IP juggernauts.
Everybody knows there’s a problem – even Google has admitted that the internet in its current form just won’t scale, and that YouTube in particular isn’t helping the bandwidth drain situation. But are they going to pull the service and say ‘sorry kids, but you’re going to have to find your videos of skateboarding dogs elsewhere from now on’? Are they flip – because it’s a proven eyeball magnet, and it’s surely not long before they find a way of making some serious money from it.
And that’s the crux of it – everybody wants a piece of the latest internet goldrush, even if the infrastructure itself is already starting to buckle under the strain. Because dreams (particularly those that involve dollar signs) beat reality anyday.
Without wanting to get too dramatic here, I can’t help but think that there’s a parallel between this slash and burn mentality to the internet and the global warming crisis that we all now face – both illustrate a tendency to assume that we can go on proliferating and expanding indefinitely without any knock on effect to the environment around us, whether natural or virtual. But are we really going to have to wait until there’s a net equivalent of the Stern Report before we act to avert online gridlock?
I really don’t know what the answer is, particularly as there seems to be such a disconnect between the content evangelists and the infrastructure providers – not to mention the fact that while governments might like to brag about the size of their broadband, they seem less keen on getting involved in regulating the global backbone network and ensuring that a quality internet service is available for all…