Happy Birthday, Internet!

October 29, 2009 at 4:04 am (Cool Tech, Internet tech, Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

40th-birthday-cake-internetSo.  The Internet turns 40 years old today! The very first interconnection between two remotely located computer systems took place on October 29th, 1969.

Warning: GEEK ALERT! This post is going to be excessively nerdy.  If you find your eyes beginning to glaze over, you might want to read one of my most popular posts ever, “They Call This A Jeep?

Now, back to the Internet’s Birthday… It was 1969.  The first man had walked on the moon only a few months before, it was the Summer of Love, and Woodstock, the US Army was still in Vietnam, and the military’s research arm – DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – had been working for years towards the goal of a massive computer network.

(Today, it’s become something that we take almost for granted, but even 15 years ago, most people weren’t online, and many people didn’t even have home computers.  That’s a lot of change for such a short time.)

Getting back to 1969, it may have been a remarkable event, but it was little noted at the time.  To quote Leonard Kleinrock, one of the people who invented the hardware and software that make the Internet work:

…on October 29, 1969, at 10:30 in the evening, you will find in a log, a notebook log that I have in my office at U.C.L.A., an entry which says, “Talked to SRI [Stanford Research Institute] host to host.” If you want to be, shall I say, poetic about it, the September event was when the infant Internet took its first breath.

Here’s Leonard Kleinrock himself, in a short talk about the event.

(And for more geeky fun, here’s the story of the first e-mail.)

This infant network went on to become ARPANET, the first wide-area network of computers that could “talk” to one another.  And ARPANET was eventually opened to the public in 1990, when Tim Berners Lee created the “World Wide Web” – a way of “linking” documents (or pages) to one another on the network.  (Click here for a complete timeline of the Internet’s development.)

From there, the changes have been rapid, not to say amazing.  The amount of data that can be carried on the Internet has been radically increased, allowing users to watch videos, chat with other people anywhere in the world, and send messages, pictures, and documents to any computer on the planet.  Or in orbit.  Wow, huh?

There are, of course, a few problems.  First are the unintended consequences such as economic disruption, and the social implications.  The Internet has certainly changed dating and relationships for lots of people.

And there’s the issue of Network Neutrality.  That’s the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, no matter who originated it – little old you or me, or Fox News.  A lot of people want to keep the playing field level, and allow small companies to compete with bigger concerns.  Big companies with deep pockets could buy up all the bandwidth, crowding out the smaller competition.  Not fair.  Alaska Senator Ted Stevens tried to explain it, resulting in one of the favorite Internet quotes of all time:

The Internet is a series of TUBES!

So, now we’re more or less up to date, seeing where the Internet is at 40.

What’s in the future for the Internet?

As the Internet enters its fifth decade, one of the possibilities is something called the Semantic Web, another invention of Tim Berners Lee.  The Semantic Web will rely upon the meaning and weight that visitors give to web pages, to establish their value and relevance.  The social media phenomenon – Twitter, MySpace, Facebook – is the first step in that direction.

The Internet also has the capability of connecting to – and communicating with – virtually anything, anywhere.  You might have an Internet-connected refrigerator that orders more bread and veggies when you run out, or an Internet-connected thermostat and Venetian blinds, allowing you to control the environment of your home from your laptop or iPhone.

Another interesting development: this week, President Obama announced $3.4 billion to be put towards modernizing America’s power grid. That will include making it “smarter” and more resilient to interruptions and attack, using some of these new Internet technologies.

Not to be outdone, DARPA and the military are getting in the act, developing a new, “hardened” military network protocol, intended to keep our fighting men and women connected under the worst of circumstances.

All of these developments in connectivity could usher in a new era of peace and freedom, or a new era of oppression and slavery.  It’s up to us how they get used.  A hammer can be used to build a house, or crack a skull.  Tools are amoral.  Humans can make a choice.

If you’d like to learn more about our options for the future, you can listen to the podcasts from Media Monarchy and The Corbett Report, and then examine the resources they offer.  There is also Adam Greenfield’s Everyware site, for information on Ubiquitous Computing.

That’s the beauty of the Internet.  You can use it to learn about anything, including the Internet itself.

The future of the Internet at 40 is exciting, and possibly scary.  So is the future of humanity.  I wonder where we will find ourselves in the year 2049?

UPDATE: 10/31/09 I can’t believe I forgot to include this.  ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) this week chose to allow non-Latin characters for Internet domain names. According to Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s President and CEO:

“This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet. The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives.”

This will supposedly save lots of keystrokes for Asian, Russian, and Arabic Internet users.  And the beat goes on.

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3 Comments

  1. kindkerry80 said,

    Your post was not “nerdy” I found it quite interesting. Actually didn’t think the internet was that old. Way back when I was in 3rd grade (1988-1989) this technology was NEW to us. I had no idea it was around 2 decades prior to that. HAPPY BIRTHDAY INTERNET you truly do get better with age! 😉

  2. lordhelpus said,

    Thanks for the kind words, Kind Kerry! Hope you have a fun Hallowe’en.

  3. Google Bailing Out of China? « We All In Trouble… | Dlock's Pop Culture Reflux said,

    […] 2:37 am (Uncategorized) Wow. I did not see that one coming.  This is the biggest news since the Internet’s 40th Birthday last […]

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