The etymology of the internet

The etymology of the internet

I’ve been thinking a little about the etymology of the words that we use to describe the internet and the way we interact with data stored there – I don’t know, bit of an idle thought really. I’m not claiming that this is a particularly new or innovative line of thought, but it’s not something that I’ve heard of before, and I thought it was worth sharing. I should also mention that this is based purely on my own, personal and anecdotal evidence – I take no responsibility for fact checking, and I’m sure there are heaps of inaccuracies here. Never mind: it’s an interesting point, regardless.

The first time I started using the internet was n the early 90s – I must have been thirteen or fourteen, and, of course, there was great excitement when we got our ultra-fast 56.6 kbps modem installed in the house – on the 386 machine. I remember the first thing we looked up was ‘Brisbane Broncos Cheerleaders’ – apparently, they were the hottest in the competition at the time. Not long after that, we gave up, still waiting for the pictures to download…

Anyway, at that time, all we talked about was the internet – or more commonly, the ‘net. Now, a net is something that you use to catch something. It’s a pretty cumbersome instrument. You dip it in the water, wait a while, and then haul it back out, hopefully with something in it – but possibly not. I think this sums up our fledgling thoughts about the internet, in the sense that it was like fishing – there was a sense of adventure – a chance that you might find something but you might not. This summed up the kind of diversion that the internet was – a hobby. Something you did on the weekends, with your mates, not anything that was that serious.

And then sometime in the early 00s, we started talking about ‘the web, as in the World Wide Web. (I should point out at this stage that I am aware that the internet, the world wide web and the other terms mentioned in this piece are different, but they are used by most people interchangeably, and that is the bit that I find interesting.) I think that this change in language summed up our new feelings about the way the internet was taking over our lives – the web was everywhere, tendrils stretched across our lives, and there was an element of danger. I’m sure you remember the films about hackers and war games and people using the web to take over things that were popular at the time. Spiders belong on webs, and as we all know, spiders are dangerous.

Obviously, something that has such a dominant effect on our lives can’t be allowed to be seen as dangerous – even if there is a growing concern about privacy and safety of data on the net. So the next iteration needed to be something that was a little warmer, a little fuzzier. Something that spoke to the consumer of safety and comfort and no need to worry. Perhaps Rainbow was taken, but cloud was not, and now, without batting an eyebrow, we talk about ‘storing things in the cloud’ or our information ‘being in the cloud’. ┬áCase closed.