As of June 1st, it’s a new world for the web. The venerable New York Times announced it would join the likes of thousands of other publications and more recently, the AP Stylebook, in decapitalizing the Internet. The HSI team has decided, at the risk of being labeled copycat copywriters, that we will gladly follow suit. Moving forward, at least on this blog, we’ll be referring to that vast network, the one that encompasses our lives as seamlessly as the air we breathe, as “the internet” rather than “the Internet”.
This change has been a long time coming. Back when the internet was in its infancy in the mid 1970s, the word was typically used as a generic term referring to a network of connected computers. But by the late ‘70s, that usage began to change as the World Wide Web took off. Internet became capitalized because it referred to a proper noun and was an abbreviation of the programming language used to establish the web, the Internet Protocol Suite. Since then, the capitalization of the internet has been enshrined in every style guide, dictionary, and esteemed newspaper from sea to shining sea.
Daily usage, however, has a way of shifting our protocols as surely as the tide. Over time, many formerly capitalized terms such as the World Wide Web have gone the way of the eerie whine of an AOL dial-up connection. Web became web. Net became net. And the Internet, a place we once thought of as an almost physical space of interaction, became as ubiquitous as oxygen. Today, the capitalization of internet seems as absurd as capitalizing other forms of media like television and radio.
History tell us, though, that language often lags behind common usage. While in 2015, the New Republic joined many other online publications in calling the decapitalization of the internet “long overdue,” other more conservative sources held out. By last year, Buzzfeed, Vox, Quartz, Gawker and many others joined the ranks of the tech-savvy “internet” camp. The stodgier Huffpost, Washington Post, and the New York Times continued to hold court in the crumbling edifice of the Internet.
Earlier this year, the Associated Press sounded the death knell of the Internet in a tweet heard round the copywriting world.
And just like that, it was the end of an era. The New York Times quickly followed, arguing that usage had finally outstripped convention. The U.N. has declared access to the internet as a fundamental right and the FCC just won the right to regulate internet as a public utility. The time has come.
While grammar conventions aren’t a crucial piece of our lives, words do shape our understanding of the world we live in. HSI is excited to be a part of this journey towards a more connected life, where the omniscience of the internet will continue to transform our future together. Welcome to the internet, friends. We’re glad you’re here.