|I- Introduction: How Will the History of the Internet Be Told?
In a review essay in the December 1998 issue of the American Historical Review, the author, Roy Rosenzweig points to how rarely most histories of the 20th century mention either computers or the Internet. Rosenzweig, however, predicts that this will soon change. He writes:
It is a fair guess that textbooks of the next century will devote
considerable attention to the Internet and larger changes in
information and communication technologies that have emerged so
dramatically in recent years.
Then he asks the question, "How will the history be written?"
Discussing several recent books about the history and development of the Internet, Rosenzweig suggests that no one single account is sufficient; that there will need to be a more adequate history written which will include aspects of all the books.
The review raises the question of what is needed to write the history of the Internet. It also considers whether the books already written meet the challenge or if there are essentials left out that can be investigated and documented.
Several of the books that have been written thus far focus mainly on the development of the ARPANET.(1) The ARPANET was an important predecessor to the Internet. It is the network that demonstrated to the world that large scale packet switching would be a feasible form of computer communications technology. Describing the ARPANET’s contribution to the development of the Internet, Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the TCP/IP protocol explains: "The ARPANET was helpful in that it demonstrated the power of networking even though for a single network and community. The kinds of things that happened there, happen in all kinds of networks and communities. It also showed the importance of protocols and introduced an example of protocol layering (e.g. FTP on top of NCP on top of the communication subnet.)"(Kahn, Email, September 15, 2002.) This new technology made possible the resource sharing of human and computer resources.(2) This background helps to understand the origins of the Internet.
The history of the ARPANET and of packet switching, however, is not the history of the Internet. The ARPANET was a single network that linked heterogeneous computer systems into a resource sharing network, first within the US, and eventually it had tentacles to computer systems in other countries.(3) The ARPANET also supported the sharing of human resources and enabled people to interact. But the computer systems had to meet certain requirements, including permission from the US government to connect to the ARPANET. The history of the ARPANET is the history of some of the foundations for the Internet. But it is not the history of the Internet. "What the ARPANET didn't address,” Kahn clarifies, “was the issue of interconnecting multiple networks and all the attendant issues that raised." (Kahn, Email, September 15, 2002)(4)
Share with your friends: