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Illustration of a cell phone.
Illustration: John Hersey

When e-mail started to take off in the 1990s, more than one pundit predicted the death of the phone call, as well as the early demise of writing and social interaction. These last two are in fact thriving, thanks to the Internet, and with the proliferation of cellular technology, phones are now entrenched as a ubiquitous part of the cultural landscape. (It’s becoming unusual to see someone walking down the street without a cellphone glued to one ear.) As I’ve argued numerous times before in this space, the importance of a cultural phenomenon is directly related to the number of new words and phrases that surround it, and telephony terms are multiplying with rabbitlike intensity.

For starters, consider cellphone types. It really wasn’t all that long ago that cellphones did one thing and one thing only: handle voice calls. Now cellphones are being crammed with all kinds of nonvoice features: a phone that also plays MP3s is called a music phone; a phone that has a built-in digital camera is a camera phone; a phone that includes PDA-like features—a mobile operating system, an organizer, e-mail, local storage, and so on—is called a smartphone.

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Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

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