What’s the info highway?

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The term “information superhighway” is an outdated term for the modern Internet, which connects people’s thoughts and all human knowledge. The origin of the term is unclear, but it was used to describe a physical pathway for information flow. However, the metaphor was flawed as every user is both a consumer and supplier, and the interconnectedness of the system has made the term obsolete.

The information superhighway is, in most modern contexts, thought of as an outdated term for what has become the modern Internet. Some definitions include other transmissions of information, including telephone, cable, and satellite communications. The highway image is meant to provoke in the listener the understanding that the Internet, which is often best thought of as a place, is a way to connect people’s thought representations as well as all of human knowledge. This is opposed to understanding the Internet as a file or book containing large amounts of information.

While the origin of the term information superhighway is not precisely known, it is often attributed to several people using the term in similar ways. Al Gore, who is most commonly associated with this term, thought of the information superhighway as the communications network that would one day be in every home and office, providing instant connections to services like news and entertainment. Further back, a variant of the information highway was spoken of by Nam June Paik, who used the term in relation to telecommunications.

For a long time, when the Internet was not as commonly understood and the precise jargon with which to discuss this topic had not been developed, the information superhighway was essentially a physical pathway through which information flowed. People discussing the information highway usually talked about the cables and satellites with which this highway would be built, just as a person might discuss building roads to connect cities to each other. This, however, leaves out the somewhat confusing aspect of this concept where every user is both a consumer and a supplier. As a metaphor, then, this term was flawed in its imagery and once led to confusion as to what exactly these communication networks were. On the other hand, thinking of the Internet as something that needs to be built and maintained like a road may have impacted the interest in doing the job of connecting people in this way.

One of the reasons the use of the term information superhighway has fallen out of use is the interconnectedness of the system currently in use. While an information highway can be thought of as something that connects two cities along long lines of cable or satellite, as was meant to imply, most people think of the Internet and other methods of communication as something that goes directly from user to user. The overlapping nature of this apparent connection does not lend itself to an image of a highway as well as the original description, and familiarity with the Internet has partially pushed this term out of use.

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