What is life without Cerf-ing the net?

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

vint-cerfThe internet has become so much a part of everyday life so quickly that it’s probably hard for the average young-ish person to imagine a time when it wasn’t around.

But there was a time, and I remember it because I’m not particularly young-ish.

Yes, I remember the days when there was great excitement over the arrival of that radical and exciting TV3 on our screens, when those young private radio upstarts at Foveaux Radio turned up, when the Goodnight Kiwi said “put the cat out” to mark the closing of our television channels each night, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was a muscle-bound actor and when the only kind of mail was the snail variety.

How things have changed.

The bloke who is known as the “father of the internet” (hi dad) reckons we’re going to run out of internet addresses very, very soon – within weeks, in fact. He also claims the blame for this worrying turn of events.

Vint Cerf was one of the people at the forefront of web technology and in 1977 came up with an experiment that connected computers all over the world.

The problem is the experiment never ended and here we are, 34 years later, with nearly all the 4 billion-ish available addresses in use.

The IPv4 protocol, which is what gets us all Googling, tweeting and searching the porn sites, provides numbered IP addresses that allow our computers to talk to others. Since 1977, the number of web users has exploded and now there are just a few million IP addresses left.

Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon in the form of IPv6 – a new, improved technology that the experts say will offer trillions of addresses.

It’s great that they are coming up with something to fix the problem, but surely they knew about it years ago? You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist (or indeed a computer scientist) to figure out a decade ago that the internet was here to stay. Anyway, much like the whole Y2K bug thing, we’re having a wee panic attack at the last moment and hoping like hell it gets fixed before the sky falls in. Or the web falls off.

Because, let’s face it: life without the web would be unimaginably bad. I can cope without nicotine (nearly six years now, yay me), I can cope without caffeine (just, although I did leap excitedly off the wagon after a five-year break a few months ago but am holding my intake at three a week), I can cope without television.

Without the internet how would millions of web-users embarrass themselves for the entertainment of millions of other web-users on YouTube?

Without the internet, my life would be a little less rich.

Thank you, Mr Cerf.


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