Jonathan Salem Baskin

Online Birth

Today, the Internet was born.

It was all about surviving nuclear war. In the 1950s, while school kids were taught to duck under the cover of their desks, and luxury bomb shelters for government elites were built outside Washington, DC, the Defense Department was worried about maintaining America’s ability to shoot back after suffering a first strike. You see, targeting and launching nuclear missiles relies heavily on data and communications, so the Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency got to work figuring out how computers could link together to help us obliterate some Russians if they ever dared to obliterate some of us.

By the late 1960s, a system was ready to test, using novel new technology devices like Interface Message Processors, or routers, and connecting them as receivers, transmitters, and forwarders of data to form a net. The original ARPANET included four locations, three at California universities, and one in Utah (where computer pioneer Ivan Sutherland had moved from Caltech). While the first transmission occurred a few weeks earlier — the UCLA computer on which the message “login” was being typed crashed mid-word, so the first communication was “lo” — the first committed ARPANET link was established between UCLA and Stanford on this day in 1969. Years later, the linkages would grow geometrically, and the network would morph into the consumer Internet. Many of its founders would deny any basis for their invention in the doomsday scenarios of the Cold War (which were nearly 20 years old by the time ARPANET became permanent).

Discoveries and innovations are always reliant on a variety of different and sometimes conflicting (or forgotten) prompts and impulses.

Here’s the link to Today in the Histories of Social Media, and this is the latest edition of Histories of Social Media