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Learning from the Past: History Time! #2

Hello again everyone! We're back at it, reading The Internet Guide to New Users, and we've finally reached Chapter 1! And honestly? This chapter taught me some things. I was shocked. And it was interesting!

See Post #1 here.

Chapter 1 - Internet History and Technology - A Brief Introduction

That's right. It's history time. Before we can really dig into the internet and all it's connected networks, we have to understand how it came to be. Right?

But First!

"Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

  • Arthur C. Clarke

I can't not include the Arthur C. Clarke quote. Especially when it's one of the very first things the book throws at you!

Sufficiently advanced technology... I wonder what the author of this book thought as time went by, and everything became even more advanced? This quote barely does it justice. Technology has gone far beyond what people in 1993 would've thought it ever could, and it's STILL going farther and farther. As we all know, it never ends! There's always new things to learn.

There is also another quote...

All the worlds a net! And all the data, merely packets.
Come to store-and-forward in the queues a while and then are
Heard no more. 'Tis a network waiting to be switched!

  • Vint Cerf

I like this because it's a fun twist on Shakespeare. And I just like fun things like this. Carry on.

Meet the Internet

Let's dig into the real meat and potatoes of this chapter and really learn about the internet! And let's start by a lovely comparison to the past...

"You don't need an in-depth knowledge of computer networking to be an end user, any more than you need to know how television broadcasting works in order to use a VCR."

REMEMBER VCRS?!? This makes me want to go and pull out my old VCR tapes just to see which have survived the inevitable second hand store drop off.

Can VCRs come back like vinyls did? I miss having a big old honking tape that would unwind all the time. And trying to wind it back up without wrecking it... brilliant.

Anyway, this is a good point. You don't need to know how the internet works to use it. And a good huge chunk of people don't know how it works as they use it. So we have to work for them, and include them in our planning, our designing, our development... It's the basics of the internet. Design for the user. The "user is always right" (you will not convince me of this I don't care what you say). The user is our target, our client, and our main goal.

We must please the user.

Join the user cult-NO. I've gone off topic...

The Electronic Taffy Pull

Put data in = input.
Push it around = processing.
Hang on to it = storage.
Let go of it = output.

Simple as.

I kinda like this way of looking at it. It's simple, straight forward, and kinda works. Makes it easy to grasp. Especially for people who don't see all the 1s and 0s.

We also get into the "very earliest" days of computers, where everything happened in a big, air conditioned room. The "computer room" was where you had to go to grab whatever you needed. Thankfully, we can now have computers in any room. Right now I'm writing this on my couch. I might finish it in a Cafe. The world is our oyster, and it is a magnificent one.

I like to complain about the speed of my internet. A lot. I live in the Canadian countryside, and as of the time of this writing, I've got 2.18mbps Download, and 0.98mbps upload.

Hold you're shock till the end, please.

But this is miles faster than what they were used to at the beginning of the internet. Quoting from the book:

"For example, 'Hey, I got an e-mail message for Joe on the Macintosh in the corner office', 'this is a file for the big PostScript printer on the second floor.'" Computer: "'Slow down, I can't take information this fast!'"

Even my horrible internet connection can receive an email and send a file to the printer at the same time. Hell, I can receive multiple emails! Go figure!

I can message with a friend across the world and they'll get it instantly. And back then? Good luck having a friend across the world. You'd never have gotten the chance to meet them unless you took a plane over there.

"And they wanted to go further--beyond the walls of the buildings, and the boundaries of the campuses, beyond where their organization was allowed to run wires of its own."

Welcome, my friends, to the World Wide Web. We did it. We went beyond the buildings, beyond the campuses! We went everywhere. And you know how exactly we got there?

Dialing for data: Boop boop a doop.

That's right! Dial up internet. I'd insert the horrible dial up noise, but I don't want to torture you.

I mean, it just made sense, right? Telephone lines are everywhere, why not use them to transfer the internet as well? Sure, they use sound instead of electronic signals, but that shouldn't be too much of an issue...

And welcome to the stage; the modem. Modems MOdulated the computer signals into tones, then DEModulated them back into their original form when it reached it's destination. So you had to have a phone and a modem, and the place you were trying to connect to needed a modem and a phone to make it work.

I did not know this. I had no clue that modem is actually a weird kind of abbreviation. I love it.

At the time of this book's publication, you couldn't actually use a modem to connect to the internet. You used it to connect to BBSs, email systems, and LANs. But they also predicted it would be used for the internet, so good job them.

But us being humans, we needed it to be faster. And cheaper. And we wanted to connect to more computers.

Enter - shared lines.


It's as simple as it sounds. You have computers that share a computer line. You can't overload it, but as the book says "Computers work very fast, while we tend to move - by computer standards - very slowly". So while one computer is waiting for input, the other computer gets to scoot in and do what it needs to do. And they takes turns, switching back and forth, so it seems like a continuous connection when it's really not. You might get a busy signal here and there, but that's okay - it's the internet!

And then... packet switching.

"You can send a book to another destination through the post office page by page, by putting each page in an envelope, writing the destination and return address on the envelope, plus the page number, so the recipient could reassemble the pages into the original book... Similarly, it was proposed, computer users' streams of traffic could be split up into series of packets."

And folks... that's what they did.

ARPAnet is the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency and they decided hey, packet switching sounds cool, post offices do it all the time - let's do it on the web. Because it was done on computers, they could be programmed to do a number of other tasks - things like calculating the best network and determining which parts of the network weren't working. Because it could do this so quickly, you'd rarely see a drop in connection.

Th internet has been created! Everything is becoming connected! You could send something from one campus to the other, and it would actually get there! Excitement!!

Networking for Success

The ARPAnet was a massive, massive hit. It just didn't stop growing! On average, one new computer was being hooked up every 20 days.

And this is where I admit how very little I knew about all of this. I had never heard of the ARPAnet before this book. Nope. Never. And now I know. It's awesome.

Does this make me sound young? Have I just given a hint at how young I am? TOO BAD.

Guess whose joining the race next?

Defensive Maneuvers

That's right, enter the U.S. Department of Defense and DDN. There is always a defense connection. Always. Even I have a defense connection.

The Defense Data Network (DDN) was a combination of ARPAnet and the Department of Defense that ended up developing satellite and radio packet networks and connecting it into the ARPAnet.

And guess what? With all this new stuff going on, we need some protocols. Transmission Control Protocol/Internetworking Protocol (TCP/IP) was born.

There's honestly less in this book about TCP/IP than I thought there would be. Like, the entire section kinda was just like "hey this is thing, isn't it cool, and DEFENSE". So I'm going to Wiki it and see what I can find. Brb.

Here you go, I know you're lazy.

Basically, it provides end-to-end data communication that explains how it should be sent places. Transmitted, routed, addressed, all the things. It just covers those.

(Please don't hate me, I'm trying to be funny. I'm also probably wrong, I just skimmed the wiki page.)

Let's have another quote:

We had an Internet running in full swing in 1979 - we just didn't insist everyone use it until 1983 when enough implementations [of TCP/IP] on different platforms were available.

  • Vint Cerf

But Why Internet?

Where did the name come from? Well, the term for the whole thing was internetworking, and since we are humans, we like short things. So it got shortened to Internet, got itself a fancy capitol I, and became the Internet.

Quite simple. Quite easy to understand. Quite explanatory. I like it. Good job, folks. Simple simple simple.

Skipping A Bit...

There's a lot of info about the NSFnet, the NREN, and other things that, while interesting, would make this much longer because I'd go on for it forever. So this is the section where I shill the book and say "Buy it to find out more!"

Link to Amazon store..

Eventually, Everything Goes To Shit

This is literally what my sticky note says, and I think it's very appropriate. The actual title of the section in the book is "Commercialization and appropriate usage: respecting and getting around government rules", which is also a good title.

The internet is growing. Back in the beginning of ARPAnet, the only organizations who could connect were people related to U.S. research or defense, and the rules were loosey goosey. If something was blatantly bad, you just went "woah, Joe, dude, not cool" and Joe would be banned or something along those lines. Anything super inappropriate was dealt with, everything else, meh, there's not that many people, who cares.

Once things became more commercial, the rules became a bit more strict. Certain things were forbidden. There were clear definitions on what you could or could not do. Then the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX, pronouced kicks) was introduced. In simple terms, instead of going straight from one place to another, you would go from one place, to CIX, to the other. This opened a whole new can of worms. Before, the internet was basically like little islands. But now, there was a connection between the islands. They could finally talk to each other!

There's a quote in this book that both dates it, and helps to explain. A bit.

When I was growing up... we had two systems: Keystone Telephone Company and Bell... They didn't interconnect - so you had to have a phone and phone number from each, to be sure you could reach everyone. Similarly, without a CIX, you have only separate user communities, one for each commercial Internet carrier, and that diminished the value of each to all their subscribers. The value grows as a power set - the total number of subsets - of the user populations."

  • Steve Wolff

In my terms, either you connect to some people, or you connect to all the people. Which would make the most sense?


Using CIX, you could have tech support, cooperative program development, file backups... all without worrying if it's going against some government rules.

And there's the kicker.

You now have a place without rules. And if Lord of the Flies taught me anything, it's that rules are important. (Absolutely boring book. Fight me.)

The internet was no longer just for research, education, and government use. It was for anything and everything. And look at us now - in general, we can talk to whoever. All of our islands are connected. The internet is this massive bridge, and anyone can make anything on it.

It's great. It's amazing. It's terrifying.

Internet, 1993

1.5 million plus computers. Worldwide connections. John Quarterman declared it "the matrix", and the name stuck.

It was as big as the largest cities, larger than most countries. It supports more magazines than the biggest newsstand, and there are hundreds of thousands of emails every second.

There was so much promise, man. I hope these people are proud.


Welp. We did it. We made it through Chapter 1. I've spent the last 3-4 hours pouring over my notes, trying to figure out what to include, what to leave out... It's been a time. But... I'm actually kind of enjoying it.

This section was great. I'm young, I've never really dug much into the history of the internet and how it came about. Some of you reading this probably lived through all of this, and are like "wow these young whippersnappers never get anything right".

I've not done any of this justice. And I've barely made any good jokes. But in the end, I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did.

Off to Chapter 2!!

Top comments (5)

phlash profile image
Phil Ashby • Edited

I lived through some of it (started work in '89, just before HTTP/0.9 arrived, was using JANet in the UK while at Uni from '85), every time I see someone learning about it for the first time..

XKCD 10000

areahints profile image

i absolutely enjoyed this article, its a good thing you know i'm lazy and wont click any link but, you made great jokes and i read to the end cos its exciting and unique.. <3

justsharkie profile image

I'm lazy too, I totally understand!

Thank you for reading!! It's just a bit of fun for me, and I love hearing that others find it fun too! :)

nelliesnoodles profile image
Nellie Tobey

Love this. You broke things down in such and understandable way. I can't wait to read what's next!

justsharkie profile image

That's the goal! Also to get some use out of these darn textbooks...

They can be so confusing and hard to understand sometimes, I want to try make it as easy and fun as possible! :)