Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Internet as We Know It

The internet experience that we encounter today is very different from the experience one would have in the 60s or 70s. Today we point and click, we type to one another instantly, we can see and hear what our fellow internet have to say. Technology is changing, and with this change the internet has evolved. What was once thought improbably is becoming a reality. There have been many advances that have aided in the creation and evolution of the internet as we know it today, but there are a few that stand out more than others. They are packet-switching, email, hypertext, and graphical web browsers. I would say that without these four innovations the internet would not be the same as it is today. Before we get into further detail about these innovations, it is important to understand a little background on the internet itself.

According to Adams and Clark (2001), in the late fifties and early sixties, the creation of nuclear weapons lead to a fear of losing communication. The reason for this was that that when a nuclear bomb detonated it would send electromagnetic pulses that would knock out electronics, including means of communication, in a 250 mile radius. If one of these bombs was to hit how would the military communicate? This led to the idea of a galactic network, where there would be many different routes for a message to get through. This way if one route was destroyed there would always be another route to take so the message would get through. Fast forward a little bit to the 1970s when ARPANET is created. ARPANET was the developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which had been doing this research on how to keep communication alive if the electronics needed to communicate were knocked out. ARPANET becomes the first internet, where computers can send data to one another, and later evolves into the internet as we know it today. Now that you have a brief understanding of how and why the internet was created, we can get into the innovations that make the internet what it is today.

The first important development to the internet was packet-switching. Packet-switching involves the path in which packets travel. Packets, as defined by Adams and Clark (2001), are small bundles of data that made traffic more manageable across the internet. Basically, large amounts of data were broken down into smaller files, packets, that could be sent quicker do to their smaller size. As another way to speed up the transmission time, packet-switching was developed. Now that we had smaller packets and a bunch of routes to go down, there was no reason to send all the packets down the same one. The large file once sent, could now be broken down into smaller packets and each packet could go down the quickest path, where they would meet and form the original large file. This was a great development because it made sending data and messages quicker and more effective than ever before. The internet was going to be big, but not how ARPA originally thought.

It is important to remember, that the original purpose of the internet was to send data from one computer to another. Originally from military base to military base, but later colleges were added to ARPANET. These colleges had used the internet just as the military, to send and receive data, but something began to happen and the data they began to send was different. According to Adams and Clark (2001), the data began to become more and more personal. Professors began sending electronic message, or email, to one another about their personal lives. This was not what the original intention of the internet, but this became one of the biggest advancements and reasons why we have the internet we have today. When the general public heard that it was possible to send messages to people around the world quickly and effectively it made them want to do it too. I believe this is one the major reasons that the internet is what it is today. Think about it, if you have an email account, chances are that you check it daily. The development of email has made the use of the internet a daily activity in millions of people’s lives. In recent times this technology has become even more widely used because now you can send messages instantly or synchronously (Adams and Clark, 2001.). Instead of having to wait a few hours for someone to respond, you can get an immediate response within seconds.

The last two advancements can pretty much be put together because one cannot run without the other. The development of these two technologies, however, would not have happened without the creation of the mouse. The mouse was originally invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1963 at the Stanford Research institution (Stanford.edu). The creation of the mouse is important because it enabled users to point and click. Now windows could be open and the computer could be navigated by hand, alleviating the pressure of needing to know codes and commands to use computers. This made the development of hypertext and graphical web browsers, usable and user friendly. Hypertext, as defined by Adams and Clark (2001), was a technology that allowed documents, such as images, videos, and text, to be linked together. This was usually done in the form of HTML, or hypertext markup language, but without the creation of the mouse or the next technology HTML could not be used. The web browser is a program that translates HTML and displays it. This is how we see many websites today. The web browser and the mouse allow us to point and click to navigate not only our personal computers, but now the World Wide Web.

In conclusion, the internet that we use today looks, feels, and is even used differently than it was originally intended. However, without the creation of new technologies the internet may never have grown into what it is today. In my opinion, the most important innovations that lead the internet to evolve were packet-switching, email, hypertext, and web browsers. Without these the internet would not work as fast or be as interactive as it is now. Now we have the ability to chat instantly using any combination of text, audio, and video. The internet as we know it has grown quickly and taken turns that were never expected. This only leaves us with one question; What’s next?

Adams & Clark. How did we get here? The development of a new medium.
Adams & Clarke. What is it? Characteristics of the medium.
STIM - MouseSite. Retrieved September 8,2008, from http://sloan.stanford.edu/MouseSite/

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