Monday, November 29, 2010

The internet is causing the world to shrink

I was reading up on the history of communication here and had to pause at how quickly things are changing. From the invention of written communication (3500BC) until the invention of the optical semaphore (1793), instantaneous and lossless long distance communication has been limited to how far you can shout/see. The rate of communication outside that range was limited to a max of about 200miles per day (speed of a horseback rider).

This means, that for 5000 years it would take 1.5 days to send a message from Rome to Milan. Starting in 1793, this rate began to accelerate as a visual semaphore could drop that time significantly, but there was a huge amount of infrastructure to get this working. You needed towers, telescopes, and other things to make things work.

In the space of 40 years, the electric telegraph greatly lowered the cost of long distance near light speed communication. For remainder of the 19th century, wired telegraph and eventually wireless telegraph lower the cost of high speed and distant communication. While the actual transport happened at or near the speed of light, the encoding cost slowed things down. Wireless telegraph was FAST, but nobody really had that in their house so they had to walk to the telegraph office and have a specialist encode the message.

In the 20th century, the advent of in-home telephone and television enabled nearly instantaneous worldwide communication. In the 15+ years since WWW began, the actual speed of communication has somewhat maxed out. You can't get much faster than light and short of passing messages through the earth instead of around, you'll have to accept a few hundred milliseconds of latency. Effectively, the entire world is living together. What would have taken days, months, or even years to communication even 100 years ago, can now happen instantaneously.

This means that the communication barriers caused by geographic dispersion are now effectively gone. If you can get an Internet connection, you are within shouting distance of the entire world.

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