The importance of the “i” in “internet” and what it means for your plant

Style rules catch up with reality when it comes to the IIoT, Plant Services Chief Editor Thomas Wilk writes

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

Have you been on the Internet lately? Me neither.

Oh, I’ve been connecting to the internet, heard presentations and panel discussions on the future of the industrial internet, and thought about how the next generation of plant professionals will tap into the internet constantly to operate and maintain machinery as well as communicate with each other.

But the Internet, the place where we once took long drives on the Information Superhighway? The place that required specialized infrastructure to get to, perhaps even your favorite Internet Café?

That place is fading fast.

If you miss it, you can point your real and virtual fingers at the Associated Press, which announced in April that its 2016 stylebook (released July 1) would lowercase both “internet” and “web.” Point also at The New York Times, which made its announcement in May and implemented the change on June 1.

The Plant Services editorial team engaged in a warm discussion on this topic throughout April and May, ultimately deciding to follow AP and NYT style. (You might have noticed that the shift began in June, both in print and on our website.)

For me it was a surprisingly emotional decision. Having lived through the birth and popularization of HTML and the Internet Age, lowercasing both “web” and “internet” represented the loss of what I once had considered to be concrete places and spaces.

However, as AP Standards Editor Thomas Kent has written, “The changes reflect a growing trend toward lowercasing both words, which have become generic terms.” In other words, the current ubiquity of the internet has changed it from a destination, like “Seattle” or “Shanghai,” to a commonplace thing, like the office, the plant, or a school.

It’s also difficult to ignore the changes taking place in our industry in relation to the internet. In June, as part of our coverage of the industrial automation space, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Honeywell User Group (HUG) Americas meeting in San Antonio, where the internet was top of mind throughout the program.

In his keynote, Honeywell Process Solutions President Vimal Kapur began with the observation that this is the “first time our personal lives have better tools than our work lives,” adding that with technology life cycles getting shorter, the challenges that face plants tend to center on staying current with technology while simultaneously preparing for future advances.

As part of a later panel discussion, Paul Hunton, program manager at Duke Energy, added that overcoming these challenges requires more than just technology replacement. It requires a mindset change to embrace changing technology, in order to best address specific problems, such as integration, interoperability, and cybersecurity.

In other words, it all starts with both “me” and “i.”