The Internet - a brief history

The Internet has been around now for about twenty-five years. It started out as an attempt by the United States Department of Defense to develop a system of connecting their own network (ARPAnet) with other satellite and radio networks. Krol (13) notes that “the ARPAnet was an experimental network designed to support military research - in particular, research about how to build networks that could withstand partial outages and still function”. The U.S. developed a network that worked well, and it soon allowed academics and researchers access to it. The ability to communicate and transfer information with other researchers with relative ease quickly made the network very popular with these users. Responding to market pressures, developers began to make their Internet software available on all types of computers, which made it relatively easy for computers of different types to communicate with each other. As technologies changed and developed, the Internet began to spread beyond its original roots.

In the late 1980s the National Science Foundation (NSF) created five supercomputer centres at several major universities in the U.S. Now, the world’s fastest computers were no longer available just to the military and a handful of select researchers, but instead to any who were interested or involved in scholarly research. Because there were just five of these computers (as they were very expensive), the NSF needed a way to connect their users to them. They decided to create their own network, consisting of regional networks. “In each area of the country, schools would be connected to their nearest neighbour. Each chain was connected to a supercomputer center at one point, and the centers were connected together. With this configuration, any computer could eventually communicate with any other by forwarding conversation through its neighbours” (Krol 14).

As the network grew, it worked less and less efficiently. In 1987, the contract to manage and upgrade the network was awarded to a group of private companies, who made the necessary upgrades. The network continued to grow in popularity and to spread from universities to colleges, to elementary and secondary schools, to workplaces and to private homes. Its popularity continues to grow and the world is becoming more and more “wired” with each day that goes by.

In essence, the Internet consists of “all the networks, using the IP protocol, which cooperate to form a seamless network for their collective users” (Krol 15). According to Gage, “the Internet is not a thing, a place, a single technology, or a mode of governance: It is an agreement. In the language of those who build it, it is a protocol, a way of behaving”. It is important to remember two interesting and important aspects of the Internet: governance and cost. In an interesting analogy, Krol describes the Internet as a “church: it has its council of elders, every member has an opinion about how things should work, and you can either take part or not. It’s your choice. The Internet has no president, chief operating officer, or Pope. There’s no single authority figure for the Internet as a whole” (16). Also important is the notion of cost. “There is a myth that the Internet is free. It’s not; someone pays for every connection to the Internet. Many times these fees aren’t passed on to the actual users, which feeds the illusion of ‘free access’” (Krol 17).

With this briefest of histories of the Internet in hand, we will compare the Internet (and internet publishing) with respect to the characteristics of samizdat outlined in the first portion of the paper to see what, if any, similarities and differences can be found.

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