Saturday, February 1, 2014

"The Internet" - Chapter 12 from Computer: A History of the Information Machine

The chapter in Computer: a History of the Information Machine focusing exclusively on the birth and evolution of the Internet (titled, “The Internet”, cleverly enough) is an account of the beginnings of the World Wide Web. It begins with a focus on the idea of the “World Brain”, a concept dreamed up by the Science-Fiction Nostradamus, HG Wells. Initially inspired by the idea of accumulating a wealth of human knowledge in a network, Wells sadly was never able to actively work on the project thanks to World War II. The concept was later worked on by several other visionaries, including Vannevar Bush (attributed to the idea of the “memex” information-retrieval device) and Tim Berners-Lee, who is attributed to being the creator of the World Wide Web as we know it. The chapter then outlines more modern additions to the Internet culture, including (but not limited to) the evolution of the smartphone, short biographies of the internet’s heavy hitters (Amazon, Google), and the evolution of the social network.

Also of note is how the chapter outlines very carefully the reasoning that many of the attributed creators used when contributing to the Internet's creation. There is a great amount of information about the early days of web browsers and their fierce battles for supremacy (I admit, I fondly remember utilizing Netscape as a child). It also helps explain logistical decisions, such as why the United States is exempt from a country suffix in URLs.

The chapter doesn't claim anything in a traditional sense; it’s a recollection (and often a dramatization) of how the Internet as we know it came to be. It looks to clear up misconceptions with documented facts and helps give context to how these developments arose. It shows that, much how the Internet is a collection or collaboration of many different computers, it was also the collection of many peoples’ ideas and efforts to evolve into the cultural staple we know of today.

This is a relatively new chapter; this version is from the third edition of the book which was released in July of 2013. What this means is that it is more up-to-date than its previous iteration (from 2004), which didn't know what an iPhone was and couldn't fathom how influential a social media site like Facebook could be, which had just been dreamed up by Mark Zuckerberg.

As mentioned earlier, this book is a third edition, meaning the authors of the book are aware of the mercurial nature of technology and its effects on society and have revised it accordingly; the first publication of this book dates back to 1996, with its second edition being published in 2004.The primary author, Martin Campbell-Kelly, certainly knows his salt about computer systems and their influence, as he’s an emeritus professor from the University of Warwick. Campbell-Kelly was able to get help from distinguished colleagues, as well, such as William Aspray (a professor at the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin) who is the only collaborator from the 1st edition on, Nathan Ensmenger (a professor of Information Technologies from the University of Indiana), and Jeffrey R. Yost of the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota.

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