The History of the Internet

For the younger generation, imagining a life without Internet is practically impossible. In the Digital Age, we are connected every day through a variety of different devices. Indeed, we are even trying to connect to even more devices now via wearables and IoT.

Despite the fact that we practically breathe Internet nowadays, it is not actually a natural phenomenon. And though we use it for countless things these days, few of us actually know how it came to be and how it spread like wildfire.

What is the Internet?

Today, the word ‘Internet’ is used in numerous ways. The ‘Internet’ is a source of information. The ‘Internet’ is the plague of the modern man. The ‘Internet’ is a wonderful yet dangerous place.

What the Internet actually is, however, is a global network of computers, a telecommunications system that uses a variety of items and devices, including cables and satellites, to link everything together.

The history of the Internet is extremely complex, encompassing a huge variety of technologies across multiple nations and the development of numerous networks and individual applications. A complete history would better fit a book than a relatively small article as this one intends to be. Instead, we will go through some simple points in its history with some nods to its extended timeline.

Communicating data

The concept of data communication was not created alongside computers. In fact, it predates their birth. Since the early 20th century, scientists have proposed the idea of transmitting data between two remote locations. Early on, most concepts revolved around the idea of radio transmissions.

In fact, some might say that the telegraph was the first precursor to the Internet. Though the technology itself is dissimilar, the culture surrounding the telegraph and some of its uses are certainly quite like the Internet of today.

Early advancements and the military

In the early days of computing, computers were generally connected in Local Area Networks (LANs). Though they were physically connected and thus limited in scope, they paved the way for Wide Area Networks (WANs), systems that could communicate in a far wider manner.

After Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, the world ushered into a new era of scientific and technological developments, many of which came from military departments. One example is the Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA), now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The military agency was and continues to be instrumental in developing advanced technologies for military use but their innovations sometimes make their way into daily life too. As far as the Internet is concerned, it was originally supposed to be a system that would be invulnerable to an attack from the Soviet Union, unlike the vulnerable telephone systems.

In 1962, J.C.R. Licklider suggested the idea of a global network. He envisioned a connected future, formed an informal team of like-minded scientists at ARPA, and attempted to create a network of computers that could communicate with each other on a global scale.

Whilst at ARPA, Licklider worked closely with Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and Lawrence G. Roberts. He instilled upon them the importance of making the idea of a global network a reality and, thankfully, they listened.

ARPANET arrives

In 1961, Leonard Kleinrock published the very first paper on packet-switching. Meanwhile, Paul Baran of RAND and his colleagues wrote a paper on packet-switching networks and its potential applications for the military. In the UK, Donald Davies of the National Physical Laboratory worked and applied a similar theory.

A few years later in 1966, Roberts joined ARPA and put together the plans for the widely known predecessor of the Internet: The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET.

As fate would have it, the conference where Roberts’ ARPANET paper was presented included the work of all the aforementioned scientists. Packets were now adopted as the technical term and ARPANET was in full development.

ARPA worked with several institutions, including UCLA, MIT, and the Stanford Research Institute on this project. Several more technological advancements came into being from some brilliant scientists and in October 29, 1969, a “revolution had begun” as Kleinrock would later go on to say.

At 22:30 on that day, the first APRANET link was established and the first message was attempted. The team attempted to send out the word “LOGIN” and even though only the first two letters got through before the system crashed, the groundwork was now established.

In the next year, the Network Control Program NCP) was the first host-to-host protocol used in APRANET which allowed the network to grow and institutions to create applications like email which was actually developed in 1972.

The birth of the Internet

As more and more computer networks joined ARPANET, it became apparent that NCP was insufficient for the purposes of integrating everything into a single system. Vinton Cerf and Robert E. Kahn solved the problem in 1973-1974 with the introduction of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

Later on, the duo added the Internet Protocol (IP) and the system came to be known as TCP/IP. This innovation practically led to the birth of the Internet as we know it today. The protocol, which is what we still use today, allowed computers on different networks to communicate efficiently.

In the first day of the new year in 1983, DARPA shifted ARPANET to the TCP/IP standard in a momentous occasion. This date is widely considered as the birth of the Internet as computer networks could now communicate with each other using a standard protocol.

Rapid advancements

Since that date, numerous advancements have been made. In 1983, the Domain Name System (DNS) was established to create a naming system for websites instead of using numbers. In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee creates the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) which pioneered web design.

In 1991, CERN, the same organization that Berners-Lee worked at, introduces the World Wide Web. A couple of years later, Marc Andreesen and a team of his students at the University of Illinois develop the Mosaic web browser which popularized WWW and countless concepts including the File Transfer Protocol.

Each year since then, the Internet has been the playground and battleground for an infinite number of innovations and rivalries of a cultural, social, corporate, and political nature. The launch of Google in 1998, the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000, the dawn of social networking in 2004 with Facebook.

The future

The expansion and adoption of the Internet is like nothing that came before. The Internet is an inseparable part of most people’s lives nowadays and it is virtually impossible to imagine a future without it.

The Internet of Things, wearable devices, virtual and augmented realities, are all some of the future applications that have the potential to disrupt our lives in a similar way. The concept of the Internet will undoubtedly live into the future but predicting its exact form is an impossible and impractical idea.

Image Credit @Flickr

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