A few decades back, if someone had suggested that it would eventually be possible to share your opinions with the entire world (or do what some people consider more worthwhile – publicly abuse celebrities) at the click of a button, or have access to electronic mail that takes mere seconds to reach your friends on the other side of the world, or have information on anything imaginable at the tip of your fingers – many would have thought that you were spouting the wild dreams of a lunatic.
However, we know that all of this has become a reality. Furthermore, the examples mentioned above are simply the tip of the iceberg. With the Internet, the possibilities are endless, and so is the scope of its reach. From personal communication to national intelligence and defense, the Internet has evolved to become one of mankind’s best friends. Or the worst enemy, as others might argue.
The question is, how did we reach this point? As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day. Given that truth, how did we come to a point where the Internet has become an indispensable part of life? Lets take a closer look:
Like many other important scientific inventions and innovations, such as the radio, the pocket watch and pilot communications, the development and the early evolution of the Internet was also the result of war. More specifically, the Cold War between the USA and the USSR.
The 1960s: An Eventful Infancy
The launch of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, into Earth’s orbit by the USSR left the United States convinced that their worst nightmares were about to come true.
The most frightening prophecy of doom was the one in which the USSR decided to destroy their entire telephone system. The US then set up the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). An important issue of concern at that time was for government researchers to be able to share information, even in the case of disasters.
There are two names that must be mentioned here – Leonard Kleinrock and J.C.R. Licklider. In 1961, Kleinrock, from MIT, came up with the concept of “packet switching” – the technology that forms the base for Internet communications. It basically concerns breaking data down into “packets” before sending it to its final destination. Each “packet” could be directed to take a separate route in order to avoid interception.
Licklider, also from MIT, was perhaps the first to envision what we know as the Internet today. In 1962, he proposed the idea of a “galactic network” of computers that could communicate with one another and work as a tool for government leaders to exchange information. He was chosen to head the research at DARPA.
1969 was a landmark year in the growth of the baby that was the Internet. The ARPAnet, which was short for the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, became the US Government’s first computer network, connecting the University of California (Los Angeles), Stanford Research Institute, the University of California (Santa Barbara) and the University of Utah via 50 Kbps circuits. The first message sent across this network was supposed to be LOGIN, but the network crashed after the letter G was typed in.
The 1970s: A Childhood Full of Achievements
In 1972, email was born. The first ever email program was implemented by Ray Tomlinson at BBN, which also created the standard email address format using @ to separate the user name and the host. Moreover, the ARPAnet network continued to steadily grow throughout the 1970s.
However, with the increasing networks, it became difficult to maintain a single integrated “Internet”. This time, the solution came from Stanford (scientist Vinton Cerf) and DARPA (Bob Kahn) in the form of TCP/IP (transmission control protocol/Internet protocol). The system would allow computers on different networks to communicate with each other. Cerf and Kahn were also the first people to refer to this entire system as the “Internet”.
In 1978, the devil reared its ugly head for the first time – Spam! The first ever Spam mail was sent by a DEC marketer advertising an upcoming presentation of its new DECSYSTEM-20 computers.
The 1980s: A Highly Productive Youth
By 1984, the Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced, which allowed domain names to automatically be assigned an IP number. That basically means that it allowed you to name your domains/website in the now standard format of .com, .gov, .org etc., rather than the earlier system of naming, which looked something like 100.665.987.43. Imagine if that system were still in place… how on earth would we remember any web addresses at all!
The 1980s also brought about the first ever emoticon and Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Instant messaging today is all thanks to IRC.
The 1990s: Say Hello to the World Wide Web
By the end of the 1980s, the number of hosts on the Internet rose to over 100,000. Then, in 1991, CERN released the World Wide Web (www), which was developed by Tim-Berners Lee. The World Wide Web was basically a form of “Internet” that consisted of a “web” of information that anyone on the Internet could access (instead of just sending files from one destination to another).
Before they knew it, by 1992, the number of hosts shot up to 1 million! In 1993, the world experience the first ever web browser, called Mosaic. Microsoft caught up in 1994, with the creation of a web browser for Windows 95. 1994 also saw the first ever Internet Bank, which was called First Virtual.
The 1990s saw a few more unforgettable landmark events – the start of e-commerce with the launch of eBay and Amazon, as well as Hotmail – the first ever webmail service – and our beloved Google. Let’s not forget to mention Napster here, which was successful, albeit short-lived, because it allowed users to share copyrighted material online.
The 2000s: Some Lows and Many Highs
Who hasn’t feared a repeat of the dot-com bubble burst in 2000? Many Internet companies, failing to be adequately profitable, didn’t make it through. There were others, however, that survived the epic storm.
Then, the Internet made a comeback in a major way! Between 2001 and 2006, we saw the launch of Wikipedia, Skype, Facebook, Mozilla Firefox and YouTube. Quite the exciting time, wasn’t it?
2010 and Forward: The Power of Social Media
By 2011, the number of Internet users reached 2 billion. By 2012, Facebook alone had a billion active users. The “people”, therefore, had access to the Internet, and a powerful platform to voice their views. There was nothing stopping them.
For instance, in 2011, Twitter and Facebook played a major role in the Middle East uprising, mainly through helping people spread information, making their voices heard, mobilizing the public and accelerating social protests. While some also say that this may have worsened the political condition, there is no denying the fact that it allowed people to speak in countries where the governments would rather eliminate the true voice of their citizens.
Social media is now a key tool for the marketing and advertising of products and events, offers multiple platforms where news is available before anywhere else, and acts as a place to look for and find employment… the list of applications is truly endless.
While we battle with governments attempting to restrict and control Internet content and access, there is still no denying the fact that the Internet is all about information. And more importantly, we are beginning to realize that information is power.
As Spiderman says, however, with great power comes great responsibility. If you have an endless bank of information, do your best to filter it smartly. Use the collective knowledge of humanity wisely. In other words, if you have a voice, choose your words carefully.
- History Of The Internet – Wikipedia
- Revolution Of The Internet – University of California, Santa Barbara Computer Science
- The Guardian