Do you know who made the Internet?
Of all the things humans have created that changed the world, the Internet has to have the most convoluted origin story. I’m a tech writer, and reading “Where Wizards Stay Up Late,” the fourth book of my summer-long #techbookbinge, was proof positive that even I had no idea how the Internet was really born.
History loves a simple “eureka!” moment, but the Internet was a pile of discoveries, one after the other, that were motivated by curiosity as often as vision. Tinkerers tinkered, and then, there it was.
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Tim Berners-Lee didn’t invent the Internet. He developed HTTP, the protocol that runs the World Wide Web. Vint Cerf didn’t invent the Internet. He developed IP, the protocol that made a “network of networks” out of all the regional networks that dotted the map in the net’s early development. Universities didn’t invent the Internet. They were assisted by a U.S. government that was almost unrecognizably trusting of science.
And there were so many other names and other reasons why it all worked out in the end — people who realized data could be broken up in chunks to be reassembled at another computer. People who figured out that a scattered network could function without a central node. People who developed and improved on simple applications — email! — that pushed the network to all corners of society.
This was by no means a beautifully written history book. It was plain boring at times, a technical manual where what I wanted was a story. But it gave me a sense of the weight of all these discoveries. Years and years and years adding bit by bit by bit.
My address bar. My email header. The technology that makes it possible for high quality online video to stream on my screen. Normally it’s all background for me. This week, it’s all kind of a miracle.
Next up, I’m taking a science fiction break with Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother.”