It was a pretty normal day – me and Steve Spangler were drilling down to the core of the Earth to set off a series of nuclear charges, try and get all these birds to quit running into buildings up here, when a message came in from Future Tom Headquarters.
I was the one driving the Future Tom Drillmobile so Spang had to answer the phone, and he doesn’t like to do that, especially when he’s hammered. This time he halted in the middle of his customary stream of profanity, listened for a moment.
“What did you just say, Cheney?”
That really gave me chills because Cheney’d been working for us for three and a half weeks now, and I’d never heard Spang call him anything but Princess. He looked over at me and yanked off his beer hat, spilling some on me.
“It’s the Internet, TC. We’re running out of room on the Internet.”
I’d predicted that would happen when Rob Bobo’s imaginary monkey put up a blog last year – it’s getting awfully crowded in here. But nobody ever listens to bloggers, until it’s too late. Damn it – when will people learn?
“So, yeah,” Spang said flipping some switches. “Let’s dump these nukes, and roll.”
The onboard computer piped us and reminded us that there was a specific set of coordinates to detonate the nukes and blah, blah, blah. Like anyone’s going to come down here and check.
“We’re pretty freaking deep,” I agreed. “Releasing nukes.”
“You can quit telling me everything you’re doing, TC. I’m sitting right next to you,” Spang said. “Anyhoo. Here’s the link: No Easy Fixes As Internet Runs Out Of Addresses.”
“Hmm.” I studied the screen carefully. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a headline make less sense. It’s like they just picked eight words at random and wrapped them around the word ‘Internet.'”
So we went over and checked it out and it turned out they were talking about IP addresses. In a dumb-but-very-familiar move, the original architects of the Internet designed the system to be finite, reasoning that there was a certain amount of digital space that would always be plenty for everyone.
Spang put his fingers to his temples, closing his eyes. “Trying to give a shit. Stand by.”
I wasn’t trying at all. Being so thoroughly uninterested at that moment was a Zen-like feeling. I held on to it as long as I could and said, “Whoa.”
“What we need,” Spang said at last, “is some kind of real world analogy, you know like how on Star Trek they use the Sun’s gravitational pull as a slingshot? And we’re like, Ohhhhhhh.”
“Awww, yeah. That’s like the coooolest way to time travel.”
“Is there an analogy in there?”
Yes. “It would be like running out of area codes, apparently. So just imagine how disappointed you would be in whoever put that system together, if their area codes were a single digit. And they didn’t mention the problem to you until they were on 9.”
“That would be bullshit, dude.”
“Like Y2K. Didn’t the same crew build millions of computers destined to lose track of what century it was? And now you guys are telling us, you made the computer habitat too small?”
“Check it out,” Spang said. “Here’s a clip from 1994 of Katie Couric, Elizabeth Vargas and Bryant Gumble on what I think is The Today Show, completely baffled by email addresses. Then they discuss what the hell an Internet is.”
So I clicked on it – way worse than texting while you’re driving a car is watching television on the Internet while you’re driving a rocket drill back from the center of the Earth – and he was right. In 1994, not many people had any idea what the Internet was at all. I thought, let me just run some numbers real quick.
Okay – got it. Looked like the Internet lasted seventeen years.
“Not very impressive, boys,” Spang said, putting his beer hat back on.
“No sir it is not.”
“Well, maybe this is just one of those things that only tech guys have to worry about.”
“Hmm. Let’s check.”
Ah, yes. It is. “‘It will take a while for the effect to trickle down to your level,'” I read aloud. “Guy’s being kind of a dick about it, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, it’s more like how ’bout you tech monkeys keep working on it in your basements, and when the problem is boiling out of the sewers around the rest of us, that’s when we’ll start worrying about it.”
“Down to your level. Get back to work, you smug pricks!”
Both of us felt better then, so we took a second to smile and nod a little bit, stretching. “Well,” Spang said. “What are they going to do, just build a new Internet?”
“Hmmm, let’s check the article. Ah. Yes. They sure are. In fact, it’s already done.”
Here’s the look Spang gave me when I told him that:
Then his fingers returned to his temples.
“Again,” he said. “I am struggling spiritually, to continue granting this topic space in my brain.”
“Yes, I’m afraid it turns out, they already have one, and it’s big enough for every man woman and child on Earth to have 5×1028 IP addresses each.”
“5×1028? What’s that supposed to be a number?”
“A Big. Ass. Number. Like that’s probably more stars than there are in our galaxy. That really seems like that ought to be enough IP addresses for anybody, right?”
“Okay, so we’re out of room on the Internet, but there’s another trillion-times-bigger Internet right over there.”
“Correct. I guess the reason we don’t just all switch over is because there’s not much going on there yet. So none of the big companies want to spend the money buying compatible servers or whatever, because all the action is still here on the old Internet. And until they do that, there won’t be any reason for us to go over there and motivate them.”
“Like Vegas before it was Vegas.”
“Digital Vegas waiting to happen.”
“Which is just fine, and which might get tricky for tech guys, but who cares? You don’t hear accountants bitching about the tax code, right?”
“Right – it’s like, Oh, I feel so sorry for you and your century-spanning job security. Not like those guys are shy about billing for their time, either.”
Then we clapped our hands to our faces and said, “Oh.”
“The whole article is just letting us know they’ll be charging us for various Shrinking Internet costs, just like they did for Y2k.”
“There’s plenty of room on the Internet.”
“Plenty of room. This is just a preview of the sounds which are going to start coming out of our tech guys’ faces when we have to talk to them sometimes about why our computers won’t go.”
“Blah, blah, blah, you need more memory. Blah, blah, blah, we’re moving you over to the new Internet now. Blah, blah, blah, eight hundred and fifty hundred dollars. ”
Spang reached up and turned off the siren – I think I forgot to tell you about the siren. My horn plays “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” too.
Then he sighed and said, “Damn Cheney. That little Princess will believe just about any report you put in his hands.”