On October 29, 1969, Dr. Leonard Kleinrock, Charley Kline and Bill Duval participated in an experiment. They sent a message through phone lines from UCLA to Stanford. This wasn’t unique; it was common for this sort of thing to happen even then. However they did it using a prototype wide-area network, perhaps the first wide-area network in history. It was called ARPANET at the time but you and I know it as the internet.
Why does it seem like it hasn’t been 50 years?
For the first 20 or so years of its existence, the internet was a network of large business and educational computers. Banks used it, researchers used it. Regular folks did not. Those who knew about the internet realized its potential to change the world but that potential was largely unrecognized.
That changed around 1990 when a researcher named Tim Berners-Lee created a framework that we all recognize today. Instead of long and complex strings of commands, he created a way of communicating over the internet with clicks and links. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and his WorldWideWeb (WWW) project brought the internet to life.
You probably remember getting on the internet for the first time in the mid-1990s, which is why it doesn’t feel like 50 years.
The most important tool in the history of humanity?
The internet has been called that, yes. I don’t know if it’s the top, but I would put it up there with the wheel, fire, the plow, and the calendar. Life before the internet meant being a self-contained source of information, and meant being tied to a place and time in order to experience anything.
Today, using a device in your pocket, you can learn anything, talk to anyone, listen to any piece of music ever recorded, and connect with any organization. You can see what’s happening anywhere in the world interactively. The internet has changed the way we experience time. It has changed the very definition of “knowledge.” It has turned our planet into one community — not a peaceful or harmonious one but still.
The internet is what makes it possible for me to write this article about the internet. Mind. Blown.
The power of the internet in 50 examples
Not surprisingly there’s a lot of content out there today celebrating this anniversary. I’ll point you to Popular Mechanics’ “The 50 Most Important Websites of All Time.” These are fifty sites that, for better or worse, shaped the first quarter century of the public internet. I wouldn’t say each one of them was a source for good. Also somehow they neglected to include The Solid Signal Blog in this list so obviously it’s somewhat suspect.
But even with that obvious omission, it’s still a good list and I bet it will bring back some memories.
The internet in the next 50 years
There’s a theory that says you can’t truly understand a technology’s impact until a generation has been born and died using it. If you believe that, we’re just now figuring out the role that radio and television has had in our lives. It will be decades before we can truly understand the way the internet has rewired our brains.
We already look at the internet as being as important as electricity and climate control. In the future I believe we will become more tightly connected and networked. We’ve seen a small bit of how the internet can be used in politics and banking, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see those roles change and grow. In the future, our electronic experience will continue to be ever more important and we’ll have to find new ways to understand this power and use it wisely.