A Brief History of the Communications Revolution: The Internet

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In 1957, the then Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite. Cold War rival the USA, perceived this launch as a threat to US scientific and technological supremacy. In a swift reaction the US Defence Department created the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA). The agency was charged with the responsibility of re-establishing America as the world leaders in technology.

In order to achieve the brief, the brains employed at ARPA realized that they needed to tap into the vast reserves of brain power scattered all over the US. In 1962 the Information Process Techniques Office (IPTO) was created to research advanced computing techniques. These techniques would enable sharing of ideas and of computing power and programs. JCR Licklider the first head of IPTO envisioned computers as becoming the ‘communication medium between people.’

This however came later. At first the first experiments with computer networking were all about the Cold War. America wanted a telecommunications system that could survive a nuclear attack. Thus was developed ‘packet switching’. Information was broken down into small packets that were sent along open routes to their destination. The packets were reassembled once they all reached their destination. The next step was to develop interface message processors (IMPS) that would link the computers at Stanford Research Institute, UC- Santa Barbara, UCLA and the University of Utah.

On October 15, 1969 the IMPS of UCLA and Stanford connected with the historic words ‘log in’ thus kick-starting the communications revolution – the internet.

In 1977, Apple II was introduced as the first affordable computer for individuals and business. Unfortunately Apple II was looked upon as a sophisticated toy. In 1981 IBM built the PC and it was an instant success. Most of the advances in computer technology were centred on the San Francisco Bay area. A strong counter culture movement flourished here and the electronic hobbyists among them busied themselves in creating a communication forum of the people for the people and by the people.

Electronic forums such as the WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link) were started. Here people having a common interest came together to share ideas, information and experience. Membership was voluntary and physical location became irrelevant. People could speak their minds freely anyone who objected could shift forum.

By 1980 there were a large number of Local Area Networks in the US. Inn 1988 e-mail was started. 1993 saw the coming of the browser program and the World Wide Web. In 1994, Microsoft developed the Internet Explorer. All these innovations greatly increased the commercial viability of the internet and the Internet was growing at 100% a year.

The Internet by simply interconnecting computer networks has revolutionised communications and commerce. Today at least half the world’s population has access to the Internet. Old systems of post and telegraphs are becoming extinct. An increasing number of shoppers are purchasing their needs online.

The Internet is also emerging as a powerful instrument of social change. Support for a cause can be drummed up from all over the world. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak’s downfall was the result of a social media campaign protesting police brutality on his watch.

Today, social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram etc., are very popular. Popular stars, sportspeople and world leaders have huge followings on their sites. Social networking sites also work as recruitment portals.

Education has also been transformed by the Internet with classrooms eschewing books, bags and boards for touch screen tablets.

The negative aspects of the use of the Internet have led to the police forces having to set up cybercrime branches. Detractors also predict the loss of the art of face to face communication and the setting of the stage for the ‘Big Brother’ who will control us all via the Internet.

Despite the detractors, the Internet, in its short history has enriched the lives of so many people that it is here to stay and will continue to grow from strength to strength.

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