What The Internet is For

Posted on November 17, 2005 by psu

In the distant past, around ten years ago, there was a hallowed time when the Internet both defined and demonstrated its true purpose. Back then, there were vendors on the net, like Amazon.com, from whom you could order almost anything and have it delivered to your house just a day or two later for a small fee. The choices offered by these vendors was wide and deep, and the service that they provides was competent and timely.

Of course, time and money will eventually destroy all good things, and the net is no different.

This was on my mind because my morning surfing took me to a long rant by someone named Doc about how the net is being destroyed by all of the usual suspects: the monied interests who don’t understand what the net is for or what the net should be. I think there are a lot of problems with the points of view expressed in the essay, especially when they drip with a palpable sense of entitlement, or with a desire to claim sole credit for building something that was actually the result of the efforts of a huge number of people, many of whom did not even (gasp!) use open source software.

These small issues do not concern me. They are merely the result of a nearly fatal case of latent object syndrome. The real Internet did not turn out how he believes to have envisioned it back in the day. This fact still apparently makes him bitter. What really concerns me is how he and so many others do not know what the net is really for. The Internet, after all, really has only one purpose. So as a public service, here, on this humble web site, I will let you in on the big secret.

The Internet exists for one thing: to tell me where, out of all the possible places on the surface of this great planet of ours, the package that I just ordered is currently sitting in a UPS truck, and when it will be delivered to me.

Of course, this core function is under daily attack by “super-saver” shipping programs and “free shipping” discounts that end up sending you your stuff via some cut-rate outfit that does not have online tracking. Worse, more and more of our items are being sent by US Mail, which means it is both slow and not trackable. With the bursting of the e-commerce bubble, and the resulting concerns about trivial things like actual profit, even the former gods of online commerce like Amazon have fallen in with the forces of darkness that would impose this great source of anxiety upon us. What was unthinkable just a few short years ago has now come to pass on our network: you can buy from Amazon and not know where your stuff is until it reaches your door.

Hopefully with this singular truth in mind, you will be able to return to your lives and fight for the glorious future of the network, and keep it doing what it was built to do. Hopefully, in the future, no one have to endure shipping via the USPS, or suffer through their daily lives with no idea where their packages are. Truly, the net has the potential to usher forth such a grand time of enlightenment and happiness, if we are willing to work for it.