It’s official, folks: the Internet is no longer the Internet.
According to Wired.com, the Internet is actually the internet. And the Web is the web and the Net is the net.
In an editorial published yesterday, Wired copy chief Tony Long writes that it was high time for these terms to lose their capitalization. “The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words,” Tony explains. “Actually, there never was.” Essentially, words like Internet, Web and Net have become a part of our mundane lexicon, so changing them to internet, web and net shows that the medium is being brought down to earth like media of the past.
But in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.
I did a double take when I read this paragraph; when he refers to moveable type, I immediately thought of the blogging tool. No, wait a sec – he must mean movable type, as in the Gutenberg Bible. (Oh… That movable type….)
I totally see what Wired is trying to do. But the problem with “Web” and “Net” is that both of these words have other meanings that predate the Internet by hundreds of years (as in spider’s web, fishing net, choose your favorite).
Capitalizing Web, the Internet and Net always made sense to me, but perhaps because I’m old enough to remember life before the Net or the Web, and still see them representing a new kind of place — perhaps not a geographic place, but a virtual place nonetheless. It’s everywhere, it’s nowhere, but it still strikes me as a place. And if Newark or Hollywood or Yeehaw Junction, Florida still merit being capitalized, why not the Web, the Net and the Internet? (Even Wired still plans to continue capitalizing the World Wide Web, which suggests there’s something about it that makes them feel it’s a proper noun.)
The Internet may feel like it’s been around forever, but it’s still a growing, evolving medium. De-capitalizing the words to describe it suggests that the revolution is over — let’s revel in its normalness. But we’re just beginning to figure out the true impact of the medium, and there still are millions of people who’ve never even experienced it in the first place. For people on the wrong side of the digital divide, the Internet is still a capital concept. (Which raises the question, should “the digital divide” be capitalized or not? But let’s save that for another day.) And as my doubletake with “moveable type” in Tony’s editorial shows, capitalizing proper nouns, including brands and places, can help avoid confusion over words that have different meanings depending on whether the context is the virtual world or the physical world.
Perhaps we need a compromise: capitalize them when preceded by an article. The Web. The Internet. The Net. But when they’re adjectives, we could keep them lowercase. A web page. Engaging in internet commerce. My net provider. Why? Why not? If Wired magazine can choose to capitalize World Wide Web but not web, then I can write, “I have a website on the Internet” and feel not a wit of grammatical shame.
Then again, maybe it’s just that I like the Web as the Web and the Net as the Net, no matter where I put it in a sentence.
My blog, my grammar. Call it blogitorial license if you must — and feel free to capitalize it…. -ac