Consummate dilettantism!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Should "internet" be Capitalized?

No. Pedantic schmucks will tell you otherwise, but the internet is mine. Got that? Mine. Proper noun my ass.

Wired, of all places, refuses to do so. Why? Let them explain:
Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the "I" in internet.

At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net.

Why? The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was.

True believers are fond of capitalizing words, whether they be marketers or political junkies or, in this case, techies. If It's Capitalized, It Must Be Important. In German, where all nouns are capitalized, it makes sense. It makes no sense in English. So until we become Die Wired Nachrichten, we'll just follow customary English-language usage. (Web will continue to be capitalized when part of the more official entity, World Wide Web.)

Still, the decision wasn't made lightly. Style changes are rarely capricious, since change plays havoc with the editor's sacred cow, consistency.

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.

This should not be interpreted as some kind of symbolic demotion. Think of it more as a stylistic reality check.

Naturally, as part of a company name or organization -- the Internet Movie Database, for example -- the "I" remains capitalized. It also remains capped in headlines, where Wired News style decrees that all principal words are capitalized.

But now, by lowercasing internet, web and net, Wired News is simply giving the medium its proper due.
The internet is no longer a thing reserved for academics, scientists, and researchers; it is no longer something exclusive. The internet is like an apple, a chair, or a desk; everyone is familiar with the medium, and it has lost its status as a specialized research tool. It is no longer ARPAnet, and its ubiquity has eliminated its status as proper noun. The case for capitalization might have been stronger 30 years ago, when anyone using the word "Internet" would certainly have been referring to something very specialized and not widely known. But presently everyone uses the word "internet" to refer to something that is not well-defined in the minds of most; it is merely something with which people interact every day. It is not California -- California is a Reserved Thought. Its boundaries are strictly defined, and there is nothing else that claim to be California. Not so with the internet, which has usurped paper as the medium of communication. How can it be capitalized?

Of course one can be a pedant and point out that the internet now is fundamentally the same as the Internet then, but this ignores the crucial distinction in global thought that allows, nay, necessitates, writing "internet." It's the way of the future, man.

EDIT: Someone here has something very funny to say:
Of course Internet is capitalized. It's always capitalized on the Television, and in the Newspaper. People even say it with a capital letter when they're talking on the Radio or the Telephone. In fact, I've even seen it capitalized in Books and on Signs beside the Road.

1 comment:

  1. You ask, "How can it be capitalized?"

    The answer is that it is that "Internet" is a proper noun -- the name of the largest internet. Unlike other media, Internet is a specific network.

    You may argue that there is no other notable internet in widespread public use. But if FOX News just happened to be the only non-academic, non-professional medium of television, would you spell it "fox"?

    (I don't have time to argue this any further.)