The internet today seems like an example of chaotic and random growth. It expands in many directions at once, involving many facets of our society, from technology to business to the humanities, and seems to defy any single description. The MIT Media Lab is part of this process, simultaneously pursuing research in infrastructure, organization principles, entertainment formats, educational systems and social structures, but guided by certain connecting principles. The major consortia at the lab serve to guide efforts and unify thoughts -- and the most recent of these, the Digital Life consortium, is charged with taking a more focused look at these internet-related issues: defining how our lives and leisure can be changed by living in a ne╠tworked world. This piece will take a brief look at the above-mentioned catagories, briefly describing some of the projects and the researchers involved in their investigation.
The communications infrastructure which knits the Net together is the subject of much debate. A combination of ground-lines, fiber-optics, satellite links, and basically *any* means of getting an electronic signal from one place to another is rapidly being capitalized upon -- however, each of these methods operates at a different speed, cost or level of functionality. Much of the flow of information on the internet is designed for a particular level of access: World-Wide Web pages without many images for c╠ompanies targeting a wide audience; 3-D graphics-enhanced sites haunted by universities equipped with fast-fiber links; multimedia (audio and video) files in formats only readable by certain machines, or with certain bandwidth connections. Several of the projects at the lab are examining ways of overcoming these limitations, with an eye towards creating more generalizable content.