Imagine talking about the latest elections with someone three thousand miles away without receiving a tremendous phone bill. Or sending a letter to a friend or relative and having it arrive one second later. How would it feel to know that any source of information is at your fingertips at the press of a button? All of these are possible and more with a system of networks all connected and sending information at light speed from place to place known as the Internet. This is a trend word for the nineties yet it has a background that spans all the way back to the sixties. The history of the Internet is a full one at that even though it has only been around for about 30 years. It has grown to be the greatest collection of networks in the world, its origins go back to 1962.
In 1962 the original idea for this great network of computers sprung forth from a question "How could U.S. authorities successfully communicate after a nuclear war?" The answer came from the Rand Corporation, America's foremost Cold War think-tank. Why not create a network of computers without one central main authoritative unit (Sterling 1) The Rand Corporation working along side the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) devised a plan. The network itself would be considered unreliable at all times; therefore it would never become too dependable and powerful. Each computer on the network or node would have its own authority to originate, pass, and receive messages. The name given to this network was the ARPANET.
To fully understand the ARPANET, an understanding of how a network works is needed. A network is a group of computers connected by a permanent cable or temporary phone line. The sole purpose of a network is to be able to communicate and send information electronically. The plan for the ARPANET was to have the messages themselves divided into packets, each packet separately addressed to be able to wind its way through the network on an individual basis. If one node was gone it would not matter, the message would find a way to another node.
The idea was kicked around by MIT, UCLA, and RAND during the sixties. After the British setup a test network of this type, ARPA decided to fund a larger project in the USA. The first university to receive a node called an Interface Message Processor for this network was UCLA around Labor Day, marking September 1, 1969 the birth date of the Internet as we know it today (Cerf 1). The next university was Stanford Research Institute (SRI) then UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), and finally University of Utah (Cerf 1).
The original computers used to connect to the ARPANET were consider super computers of the time. Science Data Systems (SDS) Sigma 7 was the name of the original computer at UCLA (Cerf 1). Each one of the computers connected to each other at a speed of about 400,000 bytes per second or 400 kbps over a dedicated line, which was fast at the time. Originally they connected using a protocol, "Network Control Protocol", or NCP but as time passed and the technology advanced, NCP was superseded by the protocol used by most Internet users today TCP/IP (Sterling 2). TCP or Transmission Control Protocol converts the message into streams of packets at the source, then reassembles them back into messages at the destination. IP, or Internet Protocol handles the addressing, seeing to it that packets are routed across multiple nodes and even across multiple networks with multiple standards not only ARPA's. This protocol came into use around 1977 (Zakon 5).
In 1969 there existed 4 nodes, in 1971 there were 15, and in 1972 there were 37 nodes. This exponential growth has continued even today in 1996 there are about 5.3 million nodes connected to the Internet (Zakon 14). The number of people, however, is estimated because the number of people connected to any one network varies. The amount of content over the Internet is estimated at about 12,000,000 web pages. As the numbers grew and grew the military finally dropped out in 1983 and formed MILNET. The ARPANET also dawned a new name in 1989; it became known as the Internet.
The ARPANET was not the only network of this time. Companies had their own Local Area Network or LAN and Ethernet. LANs usually have one main server and several computers connected to that server, such as the computer lab at Prep. The server usually has a large hard drive and possibly share a printer. The computers connected to the server generally have a microprocessor and maybe a small hard drive. All the important software is shared from the server. An Ethernet on the other hand, is similar to a LAN but the connecting cable is large and enables other computers on the network to be up to 1000ft. away. The speed of an Ethernet is faster than a regular LAN its base speed is 10Mbps. To put this in perspective it is more than 300% more faster than a regular modem traveling at 28.8kbps. Each of these types of networks connected to the Internet through their own dedicated node.
There is no government regulating the Internet, it is anarchy in its greatest form. The Internet's "anarchy" may seem strange, but it makes a certain deep and basic sense. It's rather like the "anarchy" of the English language. Nobody rents or owns English. As an English-speaking person, it's up to you to learn how to speak English properly and use it however you want. Though many people earn their living from using, exploiting, and teaching English, "English" as an institution is public property. Much the same goes for the Internet. Would the English language be improved if there was an English Language Co.? There'd probably be far fewer new words in English, and fewer new ideas. People on the Internet feel the same way about their institution. It's an institution that resists institutionalization. The Internet belongs to everyone and no one (Sterling 4).
Our government and many others are attempting to regulate material on the Internet. The Telecommunications Act that passed about a year ago which included the Communication decency act (CDA), put a few rules not on the Internet but on the people who own computers connected to the Internet, such as child pornography. It is illegal to post on any website anywhere. This Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Other governments have tried to put limitations on the Internet and some have even succeeded. China requires users and ISPs to register with police. Germany cut off access to some newsgroups carried on CompuServe. This ban was lifted due to protest. Saudi Arabia confines Internet Access to universities and hospitals. Singapore requires political and religious content to register with the state. New Zealand classifies computer disks as "publications" that can be censored and seized (Zakon 14). On November 1 the New York state senate passed a bill which, barring a constitutional challenge, made speech that is "harmful to minors" punishable as a felony. Ann Beeson, chief cyberlitigator for the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU), said "The law will show how nonsensical state regulation of the Internet is. It will affect online users not just in New York, but throughout the world. In addition to violating the First Amendment the law violates the commerce clause because it regulates the actions of the online community even wholly outside the state of New York." This trend is not only limited to New York. In 1995 and '96, 11 states passed laws that somehow censor speech on the Internet. They restrict everything from soliciting minors for online sex (North Carolina) to prohibiting college professors from using university-sponsored Internet resources to view sexually explicit material (Virginia). The ACLU has the Internet's biggest defense in cases such as the CDA.
With over 2 million servers connected to the Internet there is always something to do online. In fact this is a major problem for some people. They spend so much time in cyberspace they forget how to interact with other people, and their social skills deteriorate. A person like this is known as a net addict. A common question asked is "What is on the Internet that is so addicting?" One possible answer to this question is online a person can gain a false sense of reality. A person can be anyone they want to be online. This attraction alone is enough for a person to give up reality altogether. This statement can be debated, but if the choice had to be made between an ideal person or the regular person, which would be chosen more often?
One of the many attractions to the Internet is electronic mail (E-mail), faster by several orders of magnitude than the U.S. mail, which is known by Internet regulars as "snail-mail." Internet mail is like a fax, it is electronic text written then sent from the computer over the phone line to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP then routes the mail to its destination. One piece of e-mail may go over 1000 computers bouncing of each one before it reaches its destination. This process takes place all in a matter of seconds depending on your letters length and if you have a file attached. New forms of e-mail are being developed such as voice mail and video mail; both these exist and require special hardware and software. They also take longer to send and receive.
One of the first features on the ARPANET then Internet were discussion groups. These discussion groups or "newsgroups" as they are more commonly known, are a world of their own. This world of news, debate, and argument is generally known as USENET. The Internet and USENET are quite different. USENET is rather like an enormous billowing crowd of gossipy, news-hungry people, wandering in and through the Internet on their way to various private backyard barbecues (Sterling 4). At any moment or time there are over 28,000 separate newsgroups on USENET, and the discussions generate about 7 million words of typed commentary every single day (Sterling 4). All USENET newsgroups are organized by hierarchies and given prefix names such as: alt (alternative), rec (recreation), comp (computers), misc (miscellaneous), and soc (society). These were the top five newsgroup hierarchies in 1996 (Georgia 206). USENET is the focus of most of the censorship because this is were much of the pornography is view. It is uncontrollable because a newsgroup can be created at anytime with out regulation or supervision. 7.6% of all the newsgroups deal with adult oriented material. It may be a small number yet it has been blown out of proportion by media and the like.
The main use of the Internet is using a browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer to view web pages. The trendy word for this is "surfing" or for some people with slow connections, "crawling". To view a web page the user types in the desired address and then magically it appears on screen; This is the description most users give when asked to explain the Internet. Underneath that there are complex commands telling the computer what to send and receive, what data is given out and who is denied or accepted. The process begins with typing in the address the usual Http://www... and so on. The http stands for HyperText Tranfer Protocol which tells the computer which protocol to use over the World Wide Web (www). When the user enters an address such as http://www.microsoft.com it sends the request over the www to find Microsoft's web server. The .com section specifies that this is a commercial site; other suffixes include .edu (education), .mil (military), .gov (government) , and .net (external network). When the user accesses Microsoft's site they can explorer Microsoft's computer by clicking on hyperlinks which are links to other pages. When viewing specific sites they normally are labeled .htm or .html; these are acronyms for hypertext markup language which is the programming language in which most webpages are made. All these elements combined are what most people consider the Internet.
The Internet is so vast and huge, a person could spend 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year and more online and never see all of it. The amount of information on the Internet is over several trillion (tera) bytes. To put this into perspective that is over 600000 floppy disks. With all that information it is so easy to loose track of your target and waste time. Sometimes there is multiple tasks needed to be done and once an interesting site is found one hyperlink leads to another, one hour turns into three and the rest of the world is put on hold. Other times a blank screen can sit there and nothing can be thought of to visit or learn about. The Internet is great if a person has 3 or 4 hours to kill. One tip on how to limit time online is: download a timer that disconnects if a time limit has been passed. These programs usually know what day it is and allow only so much time online per day. Self discipline is another method to; train yourself to get up and leave. The consequence of being online for long periods of time is large access bill from the ISP.
Day by day the Internet grows. Some people are predicting a crash because of the excessive traffic online and the limited capabilities of the servers that are visited. AOL did crash for 15 hours several months ago and the question was raised "Can our servers handle the traffic?" The answer though is in the future. As the Internet progresses so does technology. Every 5 months newer computers are released and the computers released 5 months earlier go out of date. The technological forecast call for Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML) in the near future. This enables the user to explorer in 3D. Imagine walking through the Sistine chapel while sitting in an office in Spokane. Many ask "What does the future of the Internet hold?" the answer only time will tell.
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