3 Things That Killed the Wired Internet

When was the last time that you used your Ethernet cable?

November 12, 2014

The shift has been gradual enough to escape much notice.  We are no longer connecting to the internet by wires.  At least I’m not.  I was trying to remember the last time I plugged in.  A year ago maybe?  What about you?  What explains this shift from a world where we expected to need to plug in to get good bandwidth to one where hooking up wires feels as anachronistic as the floppy disk?  

Wired Internet Death Reason #1 - Changing Devices:

The wired internet made sense in the era of the desktop computer.  If your computer stays on (or under) your desk, plugging in to the web is the way to go.  How many of us any longer work on a desktop computer?  Some of us still need the power of the desktop for video editing and other graphically or computationally intense activities.  Some of us still prefer the experience of using a dedicated desktop machine, with no cables to unplug and a full-sized keyboard and monitor feeling the only way to work.   For most of us, however, the days of the desktop are receding into memory. 

What device are you reading these words?  I bet that it is not a desktop machine.  I’ll go with a phone.  Or a tablet.  Maybe a laptop.  I tend to read IHE on my phone, on the go, in-between other obligations.  You?   Our internet consumption has gone mobile, and for many people all work has gone mobile.  Some of you are replacing your laptops with iPads.  That still seems like a strange choice to me, as the keyboard on my MacBook Air is clearly superior to any iPad external keyboard.  But I don’t miss the full-sized keyboard and mouse hooked up to desktop (and wired) computer.  Do you?

Wired Internet Death Reason #2 - Changing Work Patterns:

My hypothesis is that there is an inverse relationship to the time we spend wired into the internet to the time that we spend in collaborative work.  The more of our work that involves working with other people, the more time on WiFi.  The more solo work that we do, the more likely we are plugging in.  

A life of solitary contemplation would be heaven on earth.  If I could pay the mortgage by not going to any more meetings than I’d never go to another meeting.  The reality is that very few of us have the luxury of solitary work.  Our projects are too complicated for any one person to complete.  We need to collaborate.  This collaboration involves meeting, traveling, and basically being constantly on the go.  Mobile devices and the wireless web fit these work patterns.   

Wired Internet Death Reason #3 - Better Wireless?

I put a question mark here because it is still not possible to take WiFi for granted.  Yes, we have great WiFi on our campuses.   My own institution, Dartmouth College, was amongst the first to offer ubiquitous wireless.  How is WiFi on your campus?

Still, a free and fast WiFi signal is still not a given.  WiFi at hotels is all over the map.  How many times has the WiFi been saturated at a conference that you are attending?  Some airports have free WiFi, but many do not.  (I’m talking to you, Reagan Washington National Airport).  We still struggle to have enough access points in our large classrooms to enable every student to take high stakes online assessments.  Many public spaces have WiFi, but all too often a free connection is not available.

This was not supposed to play out this way.  What ever happened to WiMAX?  What ever happened to all those Google and Facebook internet blimps and balloons?   A cellular LTE signal certainly helps, as I find myself tethering my laptop to my iPhone quite often to get a signal.  But this technique drains the phone’s battery and eats up the data.  We need better wireless.  Bandwidth is the infrastructure of the 21st century.  And like much of the infrastructure in the US, we are behind much of the world.

When was the last time that you used your Ethernet cable?


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