Yes, I realize I’m only a couple of months late on this, but I have heard too many people make reference to Sen. Stevens and his “series of tubes” comment not to chime in, now. If you’re late to the party, like me, here’s the quote of Stevens delivering a metaphor for the Internet:

It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.

Ha ha, what an idiot, right? At least, that’s the conclusion everyone seems to be jumping to, since surely a senator doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Except – well, that’s pretty much about right. The Internet really is more or less a series of tubes. It’s a great metaphor for how the internet works, and thinking of an Internet connection as a tube is great for helping people visualize the difference between bandwidth and latency, and how congestion can affect things in various ways. Note that “pipe” itself is a common colloquialism for an Internet connection. So, why exactly is this so funny?

This reminds me of this great ad I saw at Target one time. It was a wall mural type thing that they had over their electronics section. Specifically, it was over their booming new MP3 player section. The ad contained the face of a 40-something-year-old-guy in the front, saying “I sure do like this new MP3. It’s way better than that old MP2.” In the background is a teenage girl, who was quite obviously supposed to be his daughter, rolling her eyes, as if to say “oh geez, dad, you’re embarrasing me. there’s no such thing as MP2.” Except, well, there is. Woops.

So, I guess the moral is: it’s dangerous to assume someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about and then mock them for it if you, yourself, don’t actually know what you’re talking about. Or something.