Internet Birth–The British Connection

Contrary to myth the internet was not created or invented by Bill Gates or AOL or any of the other gurus using that system today.  It was not Google or Yahoo.  The first building block goes all the way back to the ’60’s and the military need for command and control of nuclear weapons.  The Cold War was in full flower at that time and the Viet Nam war was raging and the memory of the Czech revolt and the crushing of it by Soviet tanks was ringing in the air of that day.  The space race was in full bloom and the world was a potential powder keg in every corner of the world.  From the earliest computers in the late ’40’s, the Eniac, to the more sophisticated ones of that era the steps had been steady but small.   Small was the key factor.  Those early computers didn’t have as much memory or power as you have in your smart phone today and they literally would fill an entire room.  Mostly they were used for basic calculation and sorting.  Industry made early use of them for accounting and billing purposes.  Those early ones used IBM punch cards to do your Diner’s Club or American Express bill in the sixties.  It was considered quite an advance.  Naturally there were the inevitable Luddites who bemoaned the whole thing and said it would cost jobs and kill the economy because millions would be thrown out of work.  Were the nay sayers right?    Microsoft alone employees tens of thousands.

The military did establish the first connected system of computers.   The internet was born but its application was very limited.  Slowly it expanded primarily due to the demands of military research by academics around the world.  They wanted to communicate their theories and ideas more quickly for feed back and improvement.  It was the same thing we praised the internet for today–speed and ease of communication.  That early internet morphed into areas beyond military.  Soon there were those utilizing it for scientific reasons and even commercial benefit.  But the network was very small.  We are talking a few hundred thousand people world wide into the ’80’s.  The military walled off their use.  The first “firewall” if you will on the internet.  Thank goodness they did.   The information transmitted could be downloaded but that was slow and often the fastest way to trade information was to ship floppy disks by mail.   Remember these computers had very limited capacity. 

Then along came a Brit.  He was a fellow named Timothy Berners-Lee.  He was a mathematician and physicist.  He was British born and an Oxford man.  As a child he had built computers from car board boxes and television sets and whatever came to hand.  He was the original computer geek.  That was his passion.  In 1989 he invented what came to be known as the world wide web.  That was the invention that sparked the phenomenon of the  internet.   Within only a few years there were now millions using the computer and communicating with each other in real time and exchanging those zillions of bits of information, opionion and even junk.  He is what made AOL and Google possible.  He was a genius. 

All the more intriguing is that he did not attempt to patent anything.  He insisted that it be free and open to anyone and everyone.  He would have made billions.  Bill Gates would live in his guest house by comparison.  So every time you log on to the internet remember old Berners-Lee.  He isn’t charging you a dime to utilize his invention.  

Every new invention has its critics and predictions of coming doom.

“This new invention of printing has produced various effects of which Your Holiness cannot be ignorant……; the laity read the Scriptures and pray in their vulgar tongue. Were this suffered, the  common people might come to believe that there was not so much sue of the clergy. ….The mysteries of religion must be kept in the hands of the priests.”  From Thomas Wolsey the English Cardinal under Henry the VIII.   Clearly written before the break with the Catholic Church.


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Filed under Culture, Economics, history

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