Evolution of the Internet: How Did We Get Here?
Today more than ever, we are using the Internet for hundreds of functions—from sending a virtual greeting card to buying a pair of shoes to conducting research.
Our society is dependent upon the Internet for using mobile phones, video game systems, televisions, and of course computers. In fact, some of our larger financial decisions are if Comcast internet plans are a better investment than smaller companies. Is it important to go with large brands which specialize in cable and internet or to go with cell phone providers who are now offering personal hot spots?
Where did all of this come from? Remember when we communicated through a telephone that was attached to the wall with a cord? Our dependence has created a environment where we take our instant access to the World Wide Web for granted, with many of us unable to recall “life before the Internet,” even though for most of us that time was only a couple of decades ago.
The Internet’s Beginnings
In the early 1960s the Internet was just a series of concepts and ideas, on paper but not in practice. In July 1961 the first paper on the theory of packet-switching, or transmission of information through bits of data (packets) rather than circuitry, was published by Leonard Kleinrock of MIT. He then published a book on the same subject in 1964.
The grand scheme of a “galactic network” of interconnected computers through which people could communicate and access documents and programs from any site on that network was theorized in 1962 in series of documents written by J.C.R. Licklider, also of MIT. Licklider’s concept was extremely similar to the Internet we have today.
In 1965, Lawrence Roberts (also of MIT) connected a computer in Massachusetts to a computer in California via a low-speed telephone line, creating the first wide-area computer network. This test proved that computers could “talk” to each other without being hardwired together and that circuit-based sharing of data via telephone connection was inadequate, supporting Kleinrock’s idea of packet-switching.
In September 1969 the first node was established at UCLA and the first host computer was connected, with a second node at Stanford University being added a short time later. At the end of 1969 there were four host computers connected to the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) and the Internet’s initial functional application and usage was born.
Between the end of 1969 and late 1972, several other computers were successfully connected to the network. In October 1972, the first public demonstration of ARPANET was held at an international computer conference. Electronic mail was introduced that same year.
With the eventual introduction of open-architecture networking, or the addition of independent computer systems with their own applications, programs, and functionality, the true face of the Internet as we know it today began to reveal itself. To accommodate different systems on one network while allowing them to communicate effectively with each other, various protocols for that communication had to be developed (like TCP/IP), and the creation and integration of those protocols began in 1973.
Through the early 1980s, the use of ARPANET was done by researchers, scholars, and developers as well as military and defense organizations, and was becoming more broadly used for electronic communication among educational institutions and research facilities. In the late 1980s, the use of the Internet expanded into the commercial realm, with private citizens connecting to online social communities like America Online (AOL), Prodigy, and CompuServe.
Internet Takes Over
ARPANET was decommissioned in favor of protocol architecture like TCP/IP-based data transmission and, in 1995, the term “Internet” was brought into being by the Federal Networking Council (FNC) to describe a global method of communication and data-sharing.
In its early years, connection to the Internet was done via a dial-up connection, where a user would dial a specific telephone number via their computer’s internal (or external) modem and connect to an Internet service provider’s network. Dial-up access is still in use today but was supplanted by broadband access via cable and digital subscriber lines (DSL) that used fiber optic and digital cable wiring.
One of the first companies to offer Internet connections via a cable modem was Zenith in 1993, and technology has advanced to the point where subscribers can obtain telephone, Internet or cable television through a single piece of equipment and one wired connection.