Updated: Oct 30, 2020
Every so often my mind drifts back in time and I find myself reminiscing about the good old days. Today I seem to fixated on October, 1969. It was the month the concord broke the sound barrier, it was the first time seven people were in space at one time, and the Federal government banned the use of cyclamates artificial sweeteners.
As great as those events were, nothing compares to the greatest event of the year, possibly the last fifty years; the birth of the internet.
It all began in UCLA’s Boelter Hall, room 3420, when, on October 26th, a graduate student named Charley Kline sat at an ITT Teletype terminal and sent the first digital data transmission to Bill Duvall, a scientist who was sitting at another computer at the Stanford Research Institute, on the other side of California. It was the beginning of ARPANET, the small network of academic computers that was the precursor to the internet.
The action itself was not earth shattering . However, their communications link was proof of the feasibility of the concepts that eventually enabled the distribution of virtually all the world’s information to anyone with a computer. Such simple things (now), smartphones to garage door openers, security cameras to day timers would be a whole lot different without the internet.
After a few weeks of Kline and Duvall’s first successful communication, the network grew to include computers at UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah. Through the ’70s and much of the 1980s, connecting more and more government and academic computers was taking place, laying the groundwork for the internet we know today.
Back in 1969, a UCLA press release touted the new ARPANET. “As of now, computer networks are still in their infancy, but as they grow and become more sophisticated, we will probably see the spread of ‘computer utilities,’ which, like present electric and telephone utilities, will service individual homes and offices across the country.”
In hindsight the concept sounds very archaic. Imagine sending letters to virtually anyone without going to the post office, or watching television without commercials, what and when. Those were the things science fiction was made of.
The statement about “computer utilities” was remarkably prescient, especially given the modern, commercialized internet did not come into being until decades later. The idea is just as fresh today, as it was in the early seventies, even as computing resources are well on their way to being as global and easy to take for granted, as electricity.
Maybe anniversaries like this are good opportunities to remember how things used to be, prior to microwaves, mobile phones, television without remote controls and turning rabbit ears to get a better signal. I’m glad we are where we are, as I am grateful for what technology offers, but sometimes it’s nice to just slow down and reminisce. Wait, what is that cord coming out of the wall, connected to what looks like some sort of telephone?