Well..it all started with nuclear war. When paranoia ruled and flights
of missiles were expected to come winging their way over the oceans at
any moment, the US Department of Defence hired the RAND Corporation to
build a communications system that could survive a nuclear attack. The
system had to be smart enough to deal with parts of it's hardware going
AWOL with no warning. It had to be easy to use and maintain. These days
computers were huge air-conditioned machines that lived in locked rooms
and were tended with people with white coats, crew cuts and humor amputations.
If you wanted a job doing you handed one of them a stack of cardboard cards,or
maybe a printout. There was no way to touch the machine itself. Most of
the time you weren't even allowed to see it.
RAND's approach to building the net was different. There was no way
to keep a big central computer was going to keep a network running - one
direct hit, and it would be an ex-network that had seazed to be. So someone
suggested making the network itself smart. Instead of one big computer
in the middle,there would be lots of medium sized ones passing messages
to each other. If one went down,the others would work around it,and messages
could still get through.
The first computer to appear on the net was at UCLA in 1969. Three
others had joined by the end of the year. By the middle of 1971 there were
over 30 computers on-line,with all their programmers,hackers,casual users
and the other associates passing e-mail and software to each other,arguing,desighning
improvements and generally having the time of their lives. This mini-Internet
- it was run by and for people who thought computers were the most fun
thing - ever - . They used smalled machines that didn't need white coated
acolytes, and they took a delight in writing software in the way Beethoven
took a delight in writing music. The atmosphere around the Internet was
informal,obsessive,irrevent and technology crazed.
It was inevitable that other computer-minded types would want to join
the party,and over the next few years Arpanet grew to link most of the
computer science epartments in the US. Soon after the rest of the world,
starting with the UK,Europe and Austrakia, started to join in. And business
facilities such as the famous Xerox PARC lab, which was the home of laptops
and GUIs,also realised that this was a great way to keep people in touch
and exchange information.
The only thing missing was any kind of communal discussion system.
Sending mail from place to place was all very well,but it was a better
bet to get people brainstorming and solving people together.In 1979 two
programmers in North Carolina began creating a topic-based message system,which
soon evolved into global bulletin board system.
Initially people used the new facility to talk about Unix,the computer
fan's favourite operating system. But soon after , discussion groups about
hobbies and other interests appeared,followed by groups dedicated to local
news and information.Now there are over 13,000 different discussion areas
covering everything from the outer limits to goldfish breeding,and the
system has become global.
In the 90s,the Net started to go public. Until then there was no way
to get on-line,unless you worked at a university or a large company. In
the 80s a handful of computer-related public access schemes had been set
up,but these weren't hugely interesting unless your idea of a fun night
in was to stay up till the early hours discussing microprocessor instruction
set orthogonality with complete strangers.
Then special services such as Compuserve and America OnLine appeared.
These weren't - and aren't - quite the same as the Internet,but they start
to offer a gateway to the real thing for their more adventures (and rich)
users. Eventually companies started offering a basic connections for as
little as a tenner a month,with some simple software thrown in. Once people
saw what was possible,the Net took off.
Today,the Net is all but indestructible. The US Government,which ran
the main Internet 'backbone' in the US-Still the world's most wired country-bowed
out of the business a couple of years ago. Now there's no longer one person,one
country or company that owns or controls the Internet. And following its
usual anarchic traditions,there's still no central authority. There are
local ad-hoc decisions,but the atmosphere is more like a Wild West frontier
town than a business meeting.(If someone breaks the rules,no one is going
to come round and breeak their windowss or take them away-but they may
wake up to find five copies of the James King Bible,with pictures,in their
mail box.) It still has an unusually free and open atmosphere - on the
Net,as long as you don't break the local rules,anything goes. And much
if the information is still open to anyone without fees or access charges
of any kind.
What this means is that with access to the Net,your computer becomes
a link to the biggest collection of information the world has ever seen.
Imagine having access to all the latest shareware titles for free,many
of them before they appear in magazines and cover disks,including the latest
shareware games releases and advance notice of news and development as
soon as they happen.
Imagine being able to find people with the same interests,and exchanging
gossip and chat with them. Imagine finding 'keypals' on the other side
of the world,who are fun to write because they share your point of view
but live somewhere different and interesting.
Imagine having the world's biggest encyclopedia at the other end of
the phone. Whatever you want - the latest weather satellite pictures,information
on Morris dancing,the number Pi to millions of decimal places - you'll
find it on the Net.
Imagine being able to publish your own work - words,music,pictures,or
all of them together - somewhere it can be seen by tens of millions of
people, some of whom may even want to pay you for what you are doing.
On the Net you'll find a whole new culture which is direct,irrecerent,funny,shocking,rude,graphic
and completely uncensored. On-line you can say whatever you like, No one
can stop you,although they can - and will - argue with you if you're wrong.