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When I first arrived on the internet circa 1995, I remember a very popular expression was 'waste of bandwidth', which meant what it sounded like: the data in question was not worth the cost of sending and receiving it. If someone's argument was silly, if they were using a newsgroup to talk about their plans for the weekend, or they were posting Lord of the Rings slash fiction, you called it a waste of bandwidth. Bandwidth at the time truly was limited, and there was the idea that things using that bandwidth had to have a certain (arbitrary) level of relevance.

I recently realized that I don't hear the expression much anymore. I was wondering if this was a cool example of a culture's slang vocabulary changing in a noticeable way, with an identifiable cause. With broadband everywhere, no one really cares all that much about wasting bandwidth. The expression is an anachronism, dating back to the days when, for example, having a signature more than 4 lines was generally considered harmful to the internet.

So was this the case? This isn't my field of study, but I conducted an informal experiment. I searched Google groups for the expression 'waste of bandwidth' for each of the past ten years. I believe this is a good way to get a general idea of what people were saying and when.

Number of times the expression 'waste of bandwidth' occurred on Usenet, 1994-2003

1994     5,000
1995     6,260
1996     9,430
1997     9,920
1998     17,700
1999     21,300
2000     10,400
2001     9,580
2002     9,400
2003     6,810
Google seems to round to the nearest 10 or 100, and certainly there are more people to talk now than there used to be, but I don't think those really make irrelevant the trend we can see in those numbers. The expression became most popular during the waning days of dialup as the dominant means of internet access, and now in the age of broadband it is becoming progressively less used. The numbers just show a correlation and don't prove anything, but I think it was interesting that numbers fell basically in the way I thought they would.

Perhaps some day 'waste of bandwidth' will be an idiom as disconnected from its raison d'ĂȘtre as expressions today such as 'drop me a line' or 'all the tea in China'.
I just hope no one thinks this analysis has been a waste of bandwidth.

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