How We Got Here (25)
June 13, 2014
There could be no more appropriate place to start than the internet, that really began to come into its own in the century’s final few years. This American-conceived and -executed project, begun and continued for strictly American reasons and designed to serve American purposes, seems destined to transform the mental globe, perhaps ultimately pulling us into one global community, certainly in the meantime enlarging the effective community of every far-flung language group. (And what language extends to more peoples than English? English seems fated to become humanity’s common language, if only a universally shared second language.)
No need – in this internet age of expanded research opportunities! –to spell out the genesis and nature of the internet. Suffice it to say that it began in the 1960s with the military. It’s hard to explain this without it sounding insane, but military planners were concerned that an atomic war would destroy telephone links. That is, they feared that critical telephone exchanges would get destroyed, resulting in the surviving forces being unable to communicate with each other. So they invented a way to pass messages between computers by having the messages themselves search out the best available route. As happened in so many areas, what began as a military need was developed by way of the academic world, which adapted it for its own uses. Thus a military communications system became a network of military and academic sites, and certain governmental agencies, and …
Starting in about 1990, the internet began going mainstream. Its number of users doubling every few months, by the end of the century it already seemed universal, and quickly became indispensible to many businesses, researchers, curious individuals and, eventually, people who really, really wanted to see lots of photos and cartoons featuring cats.
The global effect was probably unanticipated, but it was pervasive. The “global village” that Marshall McLuhan had predicted, and had described in its early stages, was where we now began to live. Villages share rumors, gossip, and backbiting no less than information, common tasks and a certain world-view, and here we are.