Introduction to The Internet

The dream is as old as humanity itself: to possess the power to know what anyone anywhere can know, regardless of how far away in space and time.  Villains have yearned for such power, of course, but so have heroes and healers, builders and artists, inventors and students of every age and culture.  The instinct of humanity to connect and collaborate runs as deeply through us as the instinct to hunt runs through the wolves of the wilderness.  But for countless millennia, insights beyond our own were mostly beyond our reach.  For a hundred thousand years the minds of others were accessible only through face to face conversation, or through the stories and artwork of far off times and tribes, warped into myths by the distance of their origin.

Eventually, with the development of writing some 5000 years ago, we took a significant step toward realizing that dream, for writing enabled a much more robust record of knowledge.  Libraries grew with the great civilizations of the world, consolidating the insights of minds even long dead.  Nonetheless, distance, language, and privilege kept these archives of wisdom inaccessible to the majority of people.  And so it went, for many centuries more, until the advent of electronic communication, when the tentacles of telephony and televised media began to encircle the world to transmit news nearly as fast as it happened.  The dim glow of a great enlightening had been kindled, but still, the daily press and the nightly broadcast failed to encompass most of what people were experiencing and discovering.  We remained mostly as we had been, largely disconnected from each other, and from the vast repertoire of ideas around the world and through the ages.

Even as our march of modern progress landed men on the moon, who gazed back upon the Earth to behold its most humble scale in the void of space, down here on the surface, the spaces between us still made connecting and collaborating with those beyond our immediate social circle a difficult and expensive project.  So how is it, then, out of that age-old condition, we suddenly find ourselves now empowered with practically all human knowledge right at our fingertips?  After a hundred thousand years of dwelling on our islands of ignorance, how can it be that within a single generation, we’ve built the ultimate bridge to each other, upon which instantaneous and ubiquitous connection and collaboration is possible?

We call it the Internet, and in stark contrast to the physical forums of exchange we used to build, this one exists in an entirely new dimension, accessible through the portals of our smartphones and computers.  For all time before the Internet, our minds were very much entombed within the arbitrary physical limits of our bodies, our place, and our time.  But the Internet enables us to break free of that ancient prison, transcend those conventional boundaries once and for all and participate finally in a global marketplace of ideas and trade.  But how did we do it?  How did we create the forum of cyberspace to finally accomplish unfettered connection?  What technical genius is responsible for networking our information technology to create a world wide web of everything that everyone everywhere knows?

I give you the Internet, and how it began.

 

Select Bibliography for The Internet

Christos J. P. Moschovitis, Hilary Poole, Tami Schuyler, and Theresa M. Senft, History of the Internet: A Chronology, 1843 to Present, The Moschovitis Group, Inc. 1999.

Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon, Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internet, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 1996.

Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, Computer: A History of the Information Machine, Third Edition, Westview Press, 2013.

Paul E Ceruzzi, Computing: A Concise History, MIT Press, 2012.