The Cheat Sheet

Fifty years old, and thriving on the Web!

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on October 31, 2019 Published on October 31, 2019

We’re talking about the Internet, which celebrated its 50th birthday this Tuesday

Who, Incy Wincy spider?

Well, you’re closer. We’re talking about the Internet, which celebrated its 50th birthday this Tuesday.

Golden Jubilee? That calls for some celebration!

Yes! It was on October 29, 1969, that the human race was able to send for the first time a message via a computer network. This was done by sending a message from a computer at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to another one at the Stanford Research Institute in the Bay Area. And, the first message the scientists were able to send over the network — which was sponsored by the US military’s Advanced Research Projects Agency and hence was called the ARPA Network — was a funny “Lo”, instead of the epochal-sounding “Lo and behold, the Internet is here and the world is forever changed!”

Ha! What went wrong?

What’s now become the usual suspect about almost everything that goes wrong with the Internet or any other network — a crash. A programmer at the UCLA, Charley Kline, tried to send the long history-making message via the network and as a first step he tried to log in to the SDS Sigma 7 computer at UCLA. But the system crashed while he was trying to LOGIN. He had typed LO and, snap, the computer crashed.

Ouch, but isn’t that quintessential Internet character?

LOL. When the network was restored the ‘Lo’ had already made its way to the other computer, making history. But yes, this was miles away from the kind of Internet we know and use today. Still, a beginning was made. And the journey ahead wasn’t an easy one. Security vulnerabilities were discovered pretty soon. In 1973, a few school students accessed the Arpanet, highlighting the need to make the Internet secure and that led to encryption protocols, which we take for granted today.

Interesting! When did the real ‘Internet’ arrive?

That took a few more years. In fact, there is no general consensus on when exactly the term Internet was coined, but the common rules that help computers communicate with each other over long distances — the internet protocol or IP — came in 1982-83. A few years before that, electronic mailing was made possible. In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II famously sent her first email, signalling the era of mass e-mailing was near.

Wow!

But it was the invention of the Domain Name System (the web address) in 1983 and the World Wide Web arrived in 1989 that really heralded a new era for Internet and computing. Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN who we now consider as the father of the world wide web, developed the Hyper Text Markup Language (popularly known as HTML), which transformed the Internet like never before. Very soon, came the first web browser, our window to the Internet, in 1991.

And then the entire world started surfing!

Indeed. Along with it came the investor frenzy around online enterprises, leading to the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s which burst in the early 2000s, which also saw the arrival of social media, with Facebook arriving in 2004 and YouTube in 2005, followed by Twitter in 2006. Isn’t it interesting to think that the digital services that we now think are omnipresent and omnipotent, for the sheer spread of their reach and the influence they exert in our personal, social and political lives, are digital infants who are struggling with their toddler blues. And, curiously, even though the Internet has hit fifty, it is still far from being a fully-matured idea and practice and remains, like many things in the digital world, a work in progress. For good reasons, maybe.

So, the bottom line is?

Thanks to the Internet, the world is now wider, and closer than ever. But the Frankensteins it has unleashed on the world, in the form of social media misinformation, easy access to hate speech, pornography, the so-called Dark Web where shady deals lurk and similar misadventures, are still a concern and the community of digital entrepreneurs, scientists and activists must fume their brains further to take the Internet out of the bad web it has now found itself in.

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Published on October 31, 2019
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