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What Is the Information Superhighway?

Communications satellites were once considered to be components of the information superhighway.
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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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The information superhighway is, in most modern contexts, thought of as an outdated term for what has become the modern Internet.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 image of the highway is intended to provoke in the listener the understanding that the Internet, which is often better thought of as a place, is a way of connecting representations of the thoughts of people as well as the whole of human knowledge. This is opposed to the understanding of the Internet as a file or a book in which large amounts of information are held.

While the origin of the term information superhighway is not precisely known, it is frequently attributed to several people who were using the term in similar ways. Al Gore, who is most popularly 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 variation on the information superhighway was spoken of by Nam June Paik, who used the term in relation to telecommunications.

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For a long time, when the Internet was not as commonly understood and precise lingo with which to discuss this topic had not been developed, the information superhighway was essentially a physical route through which information flowed. People discussing the information superhighway usually talked about the cables and satellites out of which this highway would be built, much like the way a person might discuss the building of roads in order to connect cities to one another. This, however, leaves out the somewhat confusing aspect of this concept in which each user is both a consumer and provider. As a metaphor, then, this term was flawed in its imagery and once led to confusion about what precisely these communication networks really were. On the other hand, thinking of the Internet as something that must be built and maintained like a road may have impacted interest in accomplishing the task 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 that is currently employed. While an information superhighway can be thought of as something that connects two cities along long lines of cable or satellite, as it was intended to imply, most people think of the Internet and other communication methods as something that goes directly from user to user. The overlapping nature of this apparent connection does not lend itself to the image of a highway quite as well as the original description, and familiarity with the Internet has partially driven this term from use.

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