Internet History writings 2010 – Intro

Here (over the next few postings) are some excerpts from articles written in 2010 for Diplo Foundation on Internet History

 

A Brief History of the Internet (prepared for Diplo Foundation by Ian Peter)

Introduction

 

So you think you know a few basic things about Internet history? Then, lets try a simple  true/false test with the following statements.

 

  1. The Internet was invented in 1969  (and had its 40th birthday therefore in 2009 ) TRUE/FALSE
  2. The Internet was co-invented by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn TRUE/FALSE

 

Easy enough? Now lets check your scores.

 

If you answered TRUE  to Q1, you might be right. Certainly some people think that the Internet was invented in 1969.

 

If you answered TRUE to Q2, again you might be right. Certainly a lot of people believe that Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn invented the Internet.

 

But if you answered TRUE to both questions – well, there is something wrong. The events of 1969 did not involve Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn. Their work came a few years later. So both cannot be right.

 

Alright?  I’ll explain later. So lets try another question;

 

Q3. The Internet was designed as part of a US military project to survive a nuclear attack TRUE/FALSE

 

You’ve heard that is true? Well, not according to the person in charge of the Arpanet project that allegedly built the Internet, Robert Taylor.  He says that the Internet was invented in the Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories a few years later, and that the project he headed at ARPANET had nothing to do with surviving a nuclear war, wasn’t an Internet, and didn’t invent the Internet.

 

Confused? Well, join the club. There are lots of differing theories about how the Internet was invented. The reasons for this are tied up with defining exactly what the early Internet was – and also with the belief that one single invention was the beginnings of the Internet.

As Martin Campbell-Kelly and Daniel Garcia-Swartz (2005) point out [i]

 

“Most of the current crop of histories of the Internet can be characterized as “teleologies” or “Whig history.” ….Teleological histories seek uncomplicated explanations, often based on a single cause for an historical epoch. ….

 

The focus on a single cause is plausible and contains a germ of truth, but it can also conceal a greater truth. It is the same kind of history that “explains” the origin of World War I by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. True, the assassination triggered the war, but most historians would argue that there were bigger forces at work, and a great war was probably inevitable. If the Archduke had not been assassinated it is almost certain that some other event would have been the flashpoint for war. The war would have unfolded differently, of course, but a war there would have been. “

 

So we should ask, would there have been an Internet without the Arpanet of 1969? My answer is yes, because there were so many other Internet events and global events happening about that time. And would there have been an Internet without Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf’s work on TCP/IP? Again, my answer is yes – we would have simply proceeded with one of the other networking protocols coming into being at that time.

 

By the time the Internet became popular, there were thousands of independent networks in place. That they would come together into a single network was everyone’s wish, and it was only a matter of how or when. When we understand that all these networks are part of the origins of the Internet, we can begin to explore the fascinating history of how the Internet came together.

 

And its this history of multiple origins, and multiple networks and technologies which came together to create the Internet that we will explore in this course. It abounds with politics, innovation, unintended consequences, and unusual twists and turns.

 

To do so, we have created four lessons covering

 

1  The Origins of the Internet. This lesson will explain how the Internet evolved in its early stages.  You will be able to utilize this knowledge to comprehend the nature and complexities of the medium.

 

2  Early Global Growth. This lesson  will explain how the sociological factors and stakeholders which we recognize as the essential elements of today’s Internet came into play and how their growth informed the nature of the Internet as a medium. This lesson will help you to formulate responses to new issues arising in Internet governance with a deeper understanding of the unique nature of the medium.

 

3  Applications and Protocols. This lesson will explain the evolution of the protocols, applications and devices that have become central to our understanding of the modern day Internet.  You will be able to apply this knowledge to be able to analyse internet related issues in more depth.

 

4 A Brief History of Internet Governance. This lesson will explain how the governance of the Internet began and is evolving.  You will be able to draw on this knowledge to recognise the factors at play and the stakeholders involved in today’s evolving governance issues.

 

Reference Materials

 

And if you want more information or more detail on any subject, there are some excellent references out there to follow. For now, as our primary references, let us mention

 

Hobbes Internet Time Line – http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/. This is the best of the various Internet history timelines

 

My Nethistory site – www.nethistory.info – although largely compiled in 2004, this site contains some good archival material and overall history links. There are some good links to print publications and other materials at http://www.nethistory.info/Resources/internet%20history.html

 

Internet Society history page – http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/– a varied collection of Internet history materials

 

 

Or just Google away to your hearts content! There is a lot of material, out there, some better than others.

 

 


[i] Campbell-Kelly M and Garcia-Swartz D (2005). The History of the Internet: The missing Narratives Available from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=867087

(accessed April 2010)

 

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