Jarrod C. Cook

Adv. English 12

Mrs. Hoffman

November 2003

Senior Research Paper


The Communication Phenomena of the 20th Century


            The Internet has grown in just three decades from a government project to the most popularized, fastest growing invention of the later half of the twentieth century.  The Internet was not the creation of one man but the offspring of a whole community of scientists.  The post World War II era consisted of gigantic technological advancements in communication.  The Internet relied on these advancements to function properly.  The Internet was unreliable at first, so packet technology (a method of splitting data into small independent groups) was developed to add reliability and functionality to the transfer of data.  As the Internet grew in popularity more and more forms of communication were developed for the system.  One of the earliest popular uses became electronic mail, or email, giving users the capability to send messages across the network instantly.  The Web is a more recent use for the network but currently ranks at the top along with email as the number one use on the net.  The World Wide Web was constructed by one man in only seven days and became the highest form of traffic in a very short time.  The ability to serve out information throughout the world greatly appealed to many businesses.  It did not take long for corporations all over to start serving pages out to the world in an attempt to make millions.  Soon the much of the world had the ability to connect to the international system through local connection points.  The number of users grew at an astounding rate, and it became the craze of the late twentieth century.  The development of this current system for mass communication started out as a mere military communications device.

            The origin and development of the Internet was caused by the events that occurred during the Second World War.  Many asked themselves “How could the US authorities successfully communicate after a nuclear war” (Sterling 1)?  They soon realized that the country needed a decentralized system of communication, which could not be disabled by destroying one control point.  In 1966 “ARPA’s [Advanced Research Projects Agency] Bob Taylor receives funding for a network experiment” that could possibly prove to be a solution to the communication problem (Anderburg 5).  The Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as ARPA, had been formed within the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1957 to handle new technological problems (Zakon 1).  In 1969 ARPA’s experiment started weave its web across the country, connecting four university computers (Anderburg 5).  The four host computers connected together were supercomputers located at several different universities, and very basic processes occurred over their network.  This new computer network “was named ARPANET, after its Pentagon sponsor” (Sterling 2).  The name ARPANET sticks until the network becomes more commercially involved and a more proper name is given to it.  The Internet remained a tool used by professionals until the 1980’s, when new technological developments made computers cheaper and smaller.  On August 12, 1981 “IBM release[d] its IBM personal computer…for between $1500 and $4500” (Anderburg 8).  More home users began to join the massive network known as the ARPANET during the 80’s.  Due to extensive public growth of the Internet, “[ARPANET’s] military segment broke off and became MILNET” in 1983 (Sterling 4).  It was realized the name ARPANET was no longer true to the definition of this network, since there were more ordinary people than governmental officials on the network.  In 1990 the “ARPANET cease[d] to exist” and became known as the Internet (Zakon 15).  This name suited the system perfectly since the name came from the idea of interconnected networks.  “The Internet…embodies a key underlying technical idea…of open architecture networking,” which allows for a tremendous amount of freedom.  By making every system weaved into the web equal to every other system it creates no centralized point from which the system may be disabled.  This system is not independent, it relies upon many technological advancements made in the last 50 years.

            The Internet taps into many of the technological advancements of the post World War II era.  Technologies such as “networks, routers, NAPs, ISPs, DNS, and powerful servers all make the internet possible” (Tyson 6).  A network is simply two or more systems connected together to allow communication between the two.  Routers are computers that are entirely dedicated to performing network functions that allow information to reach its destination smoothly (Anderburg 5).  ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and NAPs (Systems that connect different ISPs together) are large systems that all local systems plug into to connect to the rest of the world.  The DNS (Domain Name Service) is not a necessity of the net it only allows systems to be reached by using a name instead of its numerical IP (Internet Protocol) address.  These devices only hold the network together; many more concepts are involved in the proper functioning of the Internet.  In order for the system to be popularized the computer had to become more popular.  The way to popularize something today would be to make it smaller, better, cheaper, and faster; that seems to be exactly what they did.  In 1958 “Jack Kilby demonstrated the first integrated circuit,” which was able to contain all the wires and connections compacted inside a circuit board (Anderburg 3).  A need for a cheap device to allow anyone to connect into the network developed, spawning a device known as the modem.  In 1962 ATT released the first commercial modem; it had the capability of transferring 300 bits per second (bits are a form of measurement for computer data size) (Anderburg 4).  All these items allow for connection between the many systems, but a standard way of communication was needed.  NCP (Network Control Protocol) became the original communication standard for the Internet (Sterling 3).  This system maintained communication between all the computers on the network, but there were limitations.  In 1982 “NCP was superceded by a higher-level…standard known as TCP/IP [Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol]” (Sterling 3).  This new system allowed all computers to have an individual address where they could be reached (IP) and simplified the communications process.  The reliability of the Internet depends on a different technology known as packets, which allow data to be sent and arrive safely.

            Reliability was a problem with the Internet in its beginnings, so a system using groups of data known as packets was developed.  Today “everything you do on the Internet involves packets” in both sending and receiving information (Brain 1).  When information is sent over the Internet the sending system breaks it up into packets, or small groups of data, which then find their way to the receiving end individually.  Packet development actually began at MIT as early as 1961 with a paper written by a student (Anderburg 4).  If information could not be sent in the form of small packets much information would be lost during the transfer.  “Each packet carries the information that will help it get to its destination” safely and reliably (Brain 1).  In every packet resides information describing where to go and where it came from in the form of an IP address; this information is contained in a section called the header.  Each packet also contains the number of packets and the number of that specific packet, allowing the receiving system can be sure it has all the necessary packets; this information is contained in an area known as the trailer.  The receiving “computer will strip the header and trailer off each packet and reassemble [the packet]” (Brain 2).  Using this process allows data to be sent efficiently and reliably across the world. Many developers became involved in the creation and development of this packet switching network.

            Unlike many inventions, the Internet was not developed by one person but by several groups of people.  It is said, “One of the greatest things about the Internet is that nobody really owns it” (Tyson 1).  This lack of ownership gives an amazing amount of freedom to the whole system.  Communication over telephone cables first occurred with Alexander Graham Bell when he stated ‘Mr. Watson, come here, I want you’ over his newly developed invention (Anderburg 2).  The system Infrastructure progressed from there and cables were soon running all over the country.  After World War II “RAND corporation, America’s foremost cold war think-tank, faced a strange strategic problem” of how to communicate in the occurrence of a nuclear attack (Sterling 1).  To answer this problem the DoD (Department of Defense) commissioned ARPA (Advanced Researched Projects Agency) in February 7, 1958.  ARPA contributed to the Internet more than any other organization, and it was even named after ARPA for 21 years, when it was changed to the Internet (Anderburg 3).  “Licklider was the first head of the computer research program at ARPA,” and he began the progression towards his ‘galactic network’ theory (Leiner 1).  Several other leaders took over at ARPA throughout the years and made their contributions to the system.  The NPL, or National Physical Laboratory, also played an important role in the development of the Internet (Zakon 2).  The NPL was involved in the construction of high-speed, or backbone, lines that they used to communicate between locations at high speeds.  In April of 1969 the “First packets [were] sent by Charley Kline at UCLA…the first attempt resulted in the system crashing” (Zakon 4).  Kline, along with others, further developed the packet technology (small groups of data sent through the internet). In 1971 “Ray Tomlinson of BBN invent[ed the] email program” (Zakon 5); this program soon became the most popular application for the Internet.  Email was the bane of the system administrators who made an attempt in vain to stop the gossip from spreading.  Other countries soon started to implement their own systems.  In 1972 “Louis Pouzin leads the French effort to build its own ARPANET – CYCLADES” (Zakon 6).  Systems all over the world were soon connected forming what is known as the Internet.  Many Applications began to be developed for the network once its potential was realized, email becoming one of the most popular.

            Email appealed to many because of its ability to send information instantly anywhere in the world free of charge. In 1971 “Ray Tomlinson of BBN invent[ed] the email programs” allowing instant communication around the world (Zakon 5).  It is said that, “electronic mail has probably had the most significant impact of innovations from that era” (Leiner 7).  It almost instantly became the most widely used application on the net when it was developed.  A year after the introduction of email the first software was created to organize the emails that one would receive (Anderburg 6).  Users of the ARPANET could now forward, reply, and save their messages instantly making ordinary mail (snail mail) unnecessary.  With every good invention comes its problems and email had several issues that still exist today.  By 1972 “The main traffic on ARPANET was … news and personal messages” (Sterling 3).  This flow of news drained bandwidth from the net and made other processes occurring on the Internet slow down.  This innovation was the bane of the system administrator who had worked so hard on the network that was now being used mainly for “downright gossip and schmooze” (Sterling 3).  It became a medium for viruses in the 80’s and 90’s and raised the amount of work to be done by the administrator exponentially.  Ownership issues came up and “Forwarding emails in Australia [became] illegal … as a technical infringement of personal copyright” (Zakon 31).  Forwarding an email essentially copies it and sends it to another with your credentials on it, qualifying it as a legal trespass of copyrights.  In the 90’s email became a mainstream form of advertising starting on April 12, 1994 when “Arizona lawyers … ‘Spam’ [a term for manipulative self advertising email] 6000 USENET groups” advertising their services (Anderburg 13).  This form of mass media began to fill inboxes everywhere tricking them into opening the email that contained their ad.  Email was a very popular innovation even today, but in the 90’s the World Wide Web gained a lot of popularity.

            The recently developed World Wide Web has become the biggest source of information on the face of the planet.  One man was responsible for this “civilization-altering, millionaire spawning, information suckhole known as the World Wide Web” (Quittner 1).  It was developed in a mere seven days and became the most widely used source of information and research in the world in only a few years.  The inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, released his first WWW software in November of 1990 (Anderburg 11).  Berners-Lee wanted a way to easily access his files, and “he wanted to add stuff that [resided] on someone else’s computer” (Quittner 2).  He would have to use a system known as the Internet in order to retrieve these files from another remote machine.  To link his files together “Berners-Lee fashioned a kind of ‘Hypertext’ notebook” (Quittner 2).  He was soon able to gain access to any files over the network readily, but needed a way to create these common files.  He needed a universal language so “he cobbled together a relatively easy-to-learn coding system – HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language)” (Quittner 2).  He then created a set of rules to organize his system, “he called that set of rules HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol)” (Quittner 2).  These rules were developed to maintain a level of security among systems and tell systems how files should be transferred.  Then “on the seventh day Berners-Lee cobbled together the … browser” a program giving the computer the ability to decipher these rules and the language (Quittner 2).  The World Wide Web was now complete after only seven days of work by one man.  After its completion “in 1991 the World Wide Web debuted instantly bringing order and clarity to the chaos that was cyber space” (Quittner 2).  With the help of the new windows operating systems the World Wide Web grew immensely, overshadowing most previous developments created for the Internet (see Appendix B).  By March of 1995 “HTTP (web) packets pass[ed] FTP traffic to be largest volume Internet protocol” (Anderburg 14).  The World Wide Web is an extraordinary invention but even more amazing is the man who created it and how it was done.

            Unlike the Internet itself the World Wide Web came from one man with a desire to make his own life easier.  The Internet had hundreds of creators but “The World Wide Web is Berners-Lee’s alone” (Quittner 1).  He simply wanted a way to connect his notes and also retrieve notes from other systems; he had no idea what his project would become.  He was “the quintessential child of the computer age” and “his parents met while working on… the first computer sold commercially”  (Quittner 3).  This created the perfect background for him to be familiarized with the recent technological era he was born into.  He majored in Physics and stated in an interview with Time that ‘Physics was fun… in fact a good preparation for creating a global system’ (Quittner 3).  Berners-Lee created this himself, but the project had to be sponsored by someone.  CERN was the source of funding for the WWW (World Wide Web) project; however, on December 16, 1994 they handed the project over to INRIA (Anderburg 14).  Tim Berners-Lee is given complete credit for this project and he could have easily done anything he wanted with it.  “Berners-Lee chose the nonprofit road” and made the use of his system absolutely free and he remained “content to labor quietly in the background” (Quittner 3).  After its release the World Wide Web grew at an astronomical rate due to its freedom and abilities.  It began to spawn millions of Internet corporations and websites that began to make millions.  On January of 1996 “Larry Page and Sergey Brin [began] work on a search engine called Backrub… soon renamed Google” the most popular search engine today (Anderburg 15).  This gave users the ability to search the entire network of computers looking for information they want. Berners-Lee “took a powerful communication system… and turned it into a mass medium” that could be accessed from any computer terminal (Quittner 3).  The network was soon transferring thousands of files that were known as web pages to people all over the world.

            In the 90’s web pages became one of the main sources of traffic over the Internet, providing free information to anyone who wanted it.  The World Wide Web seems fairly simple; there is not that much to its communication process.  All computers use Internet Protocol, which is “the language that computers use to communicate over the Internet” (Tyson 3).  This is not a concern to the normal person viewing the web, because the user never sees it.  The language of the web is HTML (HyperText Markup Language), “a programming language that lets you create a web page with images, links… and more” (Pietromonaco 16).  HTML is “the lingua franca of the web,” and is in the underlying structure of every page viewed on net (Quittner 2).  Today there are now many languages that can be used to create web pages, yet the main language is still HTML because of how relatively simple it is.  Web pages are usually just an HTML file, which "consists of text, which is displayed to the reader” (Pietromonaco 16).  The browser reads the file and displays the page like the instructions in the file tell it to.  All browser commands are displayed in tags; “the tag is a code that describes how the images and texts are going to appear on your site” (Pietromonaco 17).  Today resources can be found all over the web itself with information on creating a page.  Due to their simplicity, web pages began to multiply at an astounding rate and soon became a main front for advertisement.

            The ability of this system to communicate to the entire world free of charge made it perfect for advertising a product at a cheap rate.  Each system on the Internet has independence so, “connecting to the Internet cost the taxpayer little or nothing.”  The only cost required in connecting to the Internet is the personal cost of phone charges and a provider of Internet access.  Commercialization of the Internet did not really begin until 1990 with the first provider of Internet access, The World (Zakon 15).  Over the next ten years earnings taken in from the net grew along with the businesses.  The DNS (Domain Name Service) became a big source of funds on September 14, 1995, when “the NSF and NSI announce[d] that domain registration [would] no longer be free”  (Anderburg 14).  An annual fee of fifty dollars was imposed on all domain names, which considering the number of domain names (see Appendix B) became a huge source of funding for the NSF and NSI (Zakon 21).  Domain names were considered properties that could be bought and sold at the owner’s discretion.  In 1995 the name tv.com sold for $15,000, business.com sold for $150,000 (and again in 1999 for $7.5 million), and in 1998 altavista.com was sold to Compaq for $3.3 million (Zakon 23-26). These numbers show just how valuable these domain names became with the growth of the Internet in just a decade.  Computer prices dropped in the 90’s as the technology became more advanced, allowing home computers to be developed.  This created a need for more providers of Internet service, which was answered in 1995 with the formation of America Online, Prodigy, and CompuServe (Zakon 21).  America Online (AOL) prevailed over all other service providers giving superior services to its users.  On November 24, 1998 “America Online … acquire[d] Netscape Communications Corporation [A profitable Internet Corporation and creator of the Netscape Browser] in a stock transaction valued at 4.2 billion” (Anderburg 16).  In the 90’s the Internet proved itself to be an ideal place for business to grow, and it continues to grow, spawning more businesses everyday.  In 1999 “online retailers rack[ed] up 5.3 billion in sales;” where as, only ten years earlier there were very few if any making even a million in one year (Anderburg 16).  It is hard to that the Internet started with just four computers and, in 40 years, became the biggest front for communication and commercialization the world has ever known.

            The speed and magnitude of growth that occurred throughout the thirty-year development of the Internet seems to be the most astonishing aspect.  “Since its beginning in 1969, the Internet has grown from four host computer systems to tens of millions” making it one of the fastest growing phenomena of the 20th century (Tyson 1).  Its first ten to fifteen years of existence contributed to a moderate growth rate; however, it did not become a popular system until the mid 80’s.  In 1983, because of its growth, the “ARPANET split into ARPANET and MILNET [a network containing only military systems]” in order to keep common people away from government systems.  The system began to make international connections, and people from all over the world were soon connected together in a massive web of cables and computers.  The “ARPANET cease[d] to exist” in 1990 and the word Internet was dubbed as the new name for this system.  By the 90’s ARPA no longer played a sufficient role in the network, so its name was dropped from the title.  The World Wide Web proved to be the biggest contributor to the growth of the Internet, when in the 90’s users were “doubling every 53 days” (Quittner 3).  Later in the 90’s “Mosaic [the original Netscape browser] [took] the Internet by storm; WWW proliferate[d] at a rate of 341,636% annual growth ” (Zakon 18).  This massive growth took the Internet from a small hangout for the technically advanced to an everyday meeting place for anyone to explore.  Domain names became a valuable commodity in May of 1993 when they were registered “at the rate of almost 400 per month,” and by October of 1994 users were taking “domain names at the rate of 2,000 per month” (Anderburg 13-14).  Many of these names were taken by in mass quantities by companies that would later sell them for a high price to someone willing to pay.  In the year 2000 at the close of the century “304 million people [had] internet access [see appendix A]”  (Anderburg 16).  Today the Internet is the largest source of resources and communication in the world, created by everyone, yet created by no one.

            The Internet has proven in its thirty years to be a very flexible system with many abilities and uses.  This feature will cause the popularity of the Internet to continue to grow for years to come.  Technology becomes more advanced every day making computers cheaper to the ordinary person.  The Internet proved to be one of the biggest Phenomena of the 20th century starting with 4 users and ending the century with millions.  In the years to come many more uses for the Internet will be released since it exists essentially as a system of connected of computers.  As computer software becomes more technologically developed so will the Internet.  Telephone lines are continually being upgraded in speed, and high speed forms of communication have come out, giving extremely fast connections to anyone willing to pay for them.  In the years to come one can look forward to the Internet being almost a necessity for completing common every day tasks.  Its decentralized nature will allow the Internet to grow well into the next century and beyond. 



Works Cited


Anderburg, Anthony.  “History of the Internet and Web.” (5 January 2003):  1-16 http://www.anderburgfamily.net

Brain, Marshall.  “How Web Servers Work.” (Dac. 12 September 2003):  1-7 http://www.howstuffworks.com

Brain, Marshall.  “What is a Packet?” (Dac. 12 September 2003):  1-2 http://www.howstuffworks.com

Leiner, Barry.  “A Brief History of the Internet.”  Internet Society (4 August 2000):  1-20 http://www.isoc.org

O’Reilly, Dennis. “Easy Steps to a Great Site.”  PC World (October 2001):  136

Pietromonaco, P.  “The Magic of HTML.” Poptronics (August 2002):  16-17

Quittner, Joshua.  “Network Design Tim Berners-Lee.”  Time (dac.16 September 2003):  1-3 http://www.time.com

Sterling, Bruce.  “Short History of the Internet.”  The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (February 1993):  1-9

Tyson, Jeff.  “How the Internet Infrastructure Works.”  (Dac. 12 September 2003):  1-6 http://www.howstuffworks.com

Zakon, Robert.  “Hobbes’ Internet Timeline v5.6.”  (1 April 2002):  1-39 http://www.zakon.org