Critical Communication History| Why is "Ether" in Ethernet?

Peter Schaefer


An interpretive analysis of discourse by physicists in the mid- to late 19th century and electrical engineers in the mid- to late 20th century identifies cognitive and normative dimensions of the "ether" metaphor in relation to Ethernet, a standard for local area networks and a founding infrastructure for the Internet. This analysis reveals contradictions between idealized representations of information networks and the methods used to capitalize on these networks. In so doing, the research demonstrates how the use of metaphor ascribes meaning to emerging technologies in ways that function differently during the development and commercialization phases. This article concludes by asserting the utility of a comparative framework for the analysis of discourse before and after a technology enters the marketplace. Keywords: networks, historiography, Internet, metaphor, Ethernet, ether, information

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