Compared to atoms which make up the physical world, digital bits are weightless and intangible. Digital coding is a major technological influence on how ideas are expressed, shared and communicated. Robert Metcalfe, who invented Ethernet networking and founded 3Com Inc., the maker of the Palm Pilot, proposed a law of networks which says that the community value of a network grows as the square of the number of nodes increases. The smallest possible network consists of two people. In this case, Metcalfe’s value is 4. If a third person joins, the number of connections rises to three and Metcalfe’s value is 9. If a fourth, it rises to six and the value is 16.
The Internet is not a hard-wired network, like the telephone network, but a soft network, consisting of the manners, rules and procedures by which hard network is used. It is best described as a set of administrative arrangements for connecting users to information via other networks. At first, the owners of the hard networks hardly noticed the Internet. For many years, it had no impact on their infrastructures, services or prices.