years ago, on 29 October 1969, a network link was
established between two mainframe computers, one in
the University of California, Los Angeles and the
other at the Stanford Research Institute, both in
the US, through a system known as "data packet switching".
This network was known as the ARPANET, because the
idea originated within an informal research group
at the United States Government's Department of Defence
Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This group
was led by the head of the agency, J.C.R. Licklider,
a visionary scientist who as early as 1960 had called
for a network of computers, connected to one another
by wide-band communication lines, which he anticipated
could provide the functions of libraries as well as
information storage and retrieval and other symbiotic
ARPANET became the technical core of what would eventually
become the Internet. The problem was one of connecting
separate physical networks to form one logical network.
By 1973, a system was worked out, whereby the differences
between network protocols were hidden by using a common
"internetworking protocol", which meant that the concept
of the network could be separated from its physical
implementation. This spread of internetworking began
to form into a global network that eventually came
to be called "the Internet", based on standardised
protocols that were officially implemented in 1982.
Originally the development and use of the internet
was confined to the military, the government and some
privileged universities in the US. Over the 1980s
the technology and the networking possibilities began
to be spread across the world. ARPANET was overtaken
by the rapidity of technological change elsewhere,
and the project ended in 1990 to be replaced by newer
networking technologies. Commercial activities were
allowed by the US Congress in 1992, leading to the
emergence of private internet service providers and
new commercial applications. By the end of the 1980s,
the internet had entered Asia, with institutions in
Japan, Singapore, China and even Thailand becoming
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist working in the
European government-funded CERN in Geneva, invented
a network-based implementation of hypertext that could
find and organise files and information, effectively
becoming a way of organising the internet. He made
this technology publicly available, and it resulted
in the World Wide Web. The computer he used at CERN
became the first Web server. Web browsers like Mosaic
and Netscape were developed in the early 1990s.
The rest is not yet history, because technological
change in this area continues apace, and is even now
dispersed to many parts of the world. Although the
original development was largely concentrated in official
defence and scientific circles, subsequently invention
and innovation has become extraordinarily decentralised,
so much so that the legions of books on the history
of the internet find it difficult to record the developments
accurately and comprehensively.
New technologies and applications are constantly being
developed, and the remarkable possibilities that already
have been opened up by instantaneous human communication
almost defy imagination. It has been said that the
internet is as much a collection of communities as
it is a collection of technologies, and the technology
is being constantly pushed in particular directions
by meeting needs of these internet communities as
well as using members to further develop the technology.
The euphoria generated by this and related technologies
was at least partly responsible for the dotcom bubble,
which led to significant overinvestment in some commercial
applications that could not generate profits. However,
while the bursting of that bubble did lead to an economic
recession in 2000 and 2001, the proliferation of technological
development has continued.
And meanwhile it has changed the contours of human
life with amazing rapidity. While the digital divide
does indeed remain a major issue, those who have access
to the internet have found their lives transformed.
For many people who keep discovering or benefiting
from particular applications, it can seem to be too
good to be true.
The development of mobile phone technology has changed
the nature of access, as more and more people in the
developing world turn to mobile phones to access the
internet. In developing Asia, it is estimated that
the majority of internet users now access by phone
rather than computer.
Email is often considered to be the most successful
internet application, though it actually predates
the internet. Other applications have multiplied and
changed life so quickly that it must have significant
social implications. The internet has changed the
way people keep in touch with each other, find out
about each other or about anything else, learn, work,
purchase goods and services, handle many aspects of
daily life, listen to music, find other entertainment,
even make friends.
Obviously the technology is going to keep on changing.
But while we can all celebrate this wonderful technology
that has already shown so much potential for transformation,
the hard questions about the internet may emerge now.
The very success of the internet has meant that there
are many more people (and companies) with diverse
interests who have a stake in it. Although non-commercial
use remains high, the internet is increasingly becoming
a support structure for commercial services provided
for profit, and this is intensified by the fact that
its own services are increasingly becoming commodities.
Already there are debates about how the internet should
be controlled and how to maintain the decentralisation
that has been so productive and implicitly democratic.
There are conflicts over domain name space, the form
of the next generation IP addresses, the control of
content that appears on the internet, and much else.
If the internet is really to remain too good to be
true, these are questions that must concern all of