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Happy 40th anniversary, Internet

12:40 AM Thu, Sep 03, 2009 |
Posted by: Walt Zwirko
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Richard Nixon was sworn in as president of the United States.

A wooden bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass. was the scene of a fatal accident involving Sen. Edward Kennedy.

And man took his first steps on the surface of the moon.

But something else happened in the year 1969 that would change just about everything in the years to follow.

 Forty years ago this week — at Len Kleinrock’s lab in Los Angeles at the University of California — scientists linked up two computers with a 15-foot cable — the crude beginning of what we know today as the Internet.

Later that same year, computers at UCLA and three other West Coast universities were interconnected as part of ARPANET, a Defense Department project to improve communications between research teams, but it was 1972 before the network was demonstrated to the general public.

Electronic mail became the primary application of ARPANET and its variously-named successors, but that system remained closed to the masses.

CompuServe, a private network, began offering public e-mail service in 1979 and a rudimentary online “chat” function the following year.

Meanwhile, the progenitor of AOL went live in 1985; America Online was launched late in 1989, 20 years ago.

 It was not until 1991 that someone named Tim Berners-Lee at the CERN European physics lab figured out how to harness the power of interconnected computers while making it easy to navigate. He developed the concept of the World Wide Web and the Web “browser,” based on the ideas of other scientists and writers dating back to the pre-computer era.

But the Internet didn’t enter the public consciousness until the early 1990s, when it became possible for regular folks to get a dial-up connection to the Web.

It took Gutenberg’s printing press several hundred years to have a worldwide impact on society, something the World Wide Web has achieved and surpassed in an eyeblink of human history.

While the Internet is scorned by many for delivering spam, spreading viruses and peddling porn, its role in providing a global conduit for the exchange of ideas and information could yet prove to be the factor that brings us the answers to the biggest problems facing mankind like hunger, disease and conflict.

Happy anniversary, Internet; I can’t begin to imagine what the next 40 years will bring.

E-mail askwalt@wfaa.com




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