The common layman may not know many details about the internet, even though it is inextricably interwined with modern life. Many users often do not know the nature of the services they are connecting to and the providers that provide it. This has severe repercussions on the outcome of debates regarding regulation of the internet, such as net neutrality. As computer scientists and engineers, we should do a better job of educating the public so that they can not only make informed arguments, but also be aware of the
The primary largest conceptual muddle regarding public perception of the Internet is the separation between website and internet provider. According to a study done in Indonesia, Nigeria, and other countries, a small but significant portion of the population believes that using Facebook does not constitute using the Internet . To them, Facebook is the Internet and is one of the only ways of “online” communication available. The article further states that many service providers provide data plans that only allow access to a limited number of services, including Facebook and Twitter. This understandably brings massive confusion when debates about net neutrality arise. Net neutrality is about ISPs providing fair service to all carriers of traffic on their network regardless of the traffic contents, but such users may be confused – if Facebook == ISP, where’s the argument? There’s no way to give preferential treatment if there’s only one type of content flowing through the network. Thus these people are coming from a completely uninformed perspective on the net neutrality debate in the first place.
As computer scientists we are obligated, like all scientists are, to present our work to the public such that it can easily be understood and internalized. As Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” We should create interactive visualizations and videos explaining the fundamentals of networking, for example how a request is satisfied, who owns what portions of the network, and security vulnerabilities. The job of a successful scientist is not only to produce good work, but to also educate the public, and as software engineers we have both the scientific knowledge and the practical skills to achieve this crucial task.