The Internet: Historical Viewpoint and Social Aspects

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Abstract

The internet has become a vital part of the society today. It is used for transmitting and accessing information, conducting business, doing jobs among many more. This report discusses the history of the internet from the 1950s to date. It also focuses on its impact on globalisation and how it has contributed to revolution in the Middle East.

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Introduction

The internet is a worldwide system of interconnected computer networks which make use of the standard Internet Protocol Suite (TCP) to serve users across the world. In other words, it can be said to be a network of networks which comprise numerous public, private, business, institutions, government, as well as, academic networks that range from local to international, and are linked through a broad range of electronic, as well as, optical networking technologies. It contains a wide range of information resources as well as services which include inter-linked hypertext documents normally found in the World Wide Web. Other services also include infrastructure which supports electronic mail, charts, skype, video, messaging to phones among many other services. The internet has made it possible to achieve various forms of human interactions which take place through social networking, instant messaging, as well as, internet forums. It has increased the level of global communication and business. It is possible to make online purchasing or selling through e-commerce/e-business and even make online financial transactions.

History of the Internet

The earlier technologies which led to the development began when the US established the Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1958 to reclaim technological lead over the Soviet Union (Living Internet site, 2011). The agency formed the Information Processing Technology Office which was responsible for conducting advance research of the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) program. SAGE was used to network nationwide radar systems. IPTO’s mandate was to develop technology which would be used to improve the sustainability of the US military’s communication networks, and the first initiative was to interconnect their computers in their headquarters and major bases within the country.

Licklider, J. who was by then a promoter of universal networking was appointed to lead IPTO. Licklider had earlier worked in Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory which was located at Harvard University, and MIT where he helped establish Lincoln Laboratory and was also involved in the SAGE project (Living Internet site, 2011). He made the first public demonstration of time-sharing using PDP-1 computer. His successor, Sutherland Ivan assigned Lawrence Roberts who had been involved in designing of the SAGE system was hired to develop a network (Living Internet site, 2011). This began in 1965. Lawrence relied on the works of Paul Baran who had recommended revolution from circuit switching to packet switching to attain better network strength as well as to make the network sustainable (Baran, 1964). Kleinrock Leonard who was a professor at UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science had earlier provided the theoretical base the packet switching network three years before Lawrence’s appointment. Kleinrock later provided concepts for hierarchical routing which had been underpinning the development of the network (internet) (Living Internet site, 2011).

Robert Taylor, Sutherland’s successor, encouraged Lawrence to continue developing his packet switching with a promise of making him the IPTO Chief Scientist. Lawrence presented a report, “Resource Sharing Computer Networks” which Taylor approved in 1968 (Living Internet site, 2011). This formed the basis for working Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) which began in 1969.

After several advancements in the network technology, ARPANET was formed by interconnecting two modes, which were Kleinrock’s Network Measurement Center located at UCLA’s and Engelbart’s Douglas NLS system which by then had been located at SRI International, Menlo Park, California. This occurred in October 1969. ARPANET’s third site was the Culler-Fried Interactive Mathematics built at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The fourth was built at the Graphics Department, University of Utah. By 1971, fifteen sites had been built and connected to the ARPANET (Living Internet site, 2011).

During the early development of the ARPANET, the system ran on the Network Control Program (NCP). This was achieved by establishing the host-to-host connectivity, as well as, switching layers of protocol stack, which was designed and implemented by Network Working Group in 1970 (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, 2011). As more locations became connected to the ARPANET, it became necessary to respond to the growing network. Robert Khan and Vinton Cerf created the first description to the Internet Protocol Suite in 1973. They published a paper on the same the following year. The term “Internet” which is used to refer to a single global TCP/IP network first came into place in December 1974 in the RFC 675 publication (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). Vinton Cerf, Carl Sunshine and Yogen Dalal, all of Stanford University, provided the first full specification of TCP. Between early 1975 and sometime in 1983, more advancements were done to refine the protocols as well as implement them on diverse operating systems. In January 1983, all hosts which were on the ARPANET were switched over from the older Network Control Program protocols, and this made the first TCP/IP-based wide-area network to become operational (Living Internet site, 2011).

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Building of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) was commissioned by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). This was a 56 Kbit/s network backbone which was made using fuzzballs computers. In 1986, NSF sponsored further development of the NSFNET to convert it to 1.5 Mbit/s network, and this was accomplished in 1988 (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). NSF adopted the use of PCP/IP computers in its supercomputer program. This backbone was later upgraded to 45 megabits/second in 1991. The 45 Mbit/s network backbone was decommissioned in 1995 to be substituted by network backbones which were now controlled by commercial Internet Providers (Aboba & Cerf, 1993).

The NSFNET was first opened to other networks in 1988 (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). Interconnection of the NSFNET to MCI Mail System which was operated by commercial organizations or individuals was approved by the US Federal Networking Council. This link was made in mid 1989. Compuserve, On Tyme, as well as, Telemail were among the first commercial electronic mail services to be connected to the NSFNET (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). UUNET, CERFNET and PSINet began as the first commercial Internet Service Providers (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). Later, BITNET and Usenet which had previously provided gateways into, merged with the internet. Soon, several commercial as well as educational networks such as JANET, Sprintnet, Compuserve plus Tymnet became interconnected with the internet in early 1990s as the popularity of the TCP/IP increased (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). PCP/IP’s adaptability to the communication network that was in place by then promoted the growth of the network. The ease of use of the specifications as well as reference code enabled communication vendors to develop interoperable network components which included routers. Standardized network gear became available from various companies. This prompted the extensive implementation in addition to thorough standardization of the TCP/IP on Unix as well as other operating system.

The network did not achieve much publicity until the 1990s. CERN, a pan-European organization took the initiative to publicize the World Wide Web project in August 1991 (Aboba & Cerf, 1993). ViolaWWW web browser that was built with the X Window System and was already famous was substituted by the Mosaic web browser (Coffman & Odlyzko, 1998). The National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois developed 1.0 version of Mosaic in 1993. Due to its technical and academic ability, public interest in internet grew such that by 1996, it had become a commonplace. It is estimated that internet users have increased by about 20-50% annually in 1990s (Coffman & Odlyzko, 1998). This growth has been on the rise, and is estimated that by March 2011internet users across the world were about 2.1 billion.

The internet and globalization

The internet has increased the speed of transmission of information across the world. It has become easier for people around the globe to access and share information. The internet has created unlimited proximity and eliminated geographical borders (Castells, 1998).

The internet has introduced various forms of social interaction, organizations as well as activities due to its basic features which include its access in addition to widespread usability. It has promoted the growth of social networking websites like Twitter, Google+, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace among others. These have created new ways of socialization and interaction. Social networks enable internet users to connect with friends, peers, people with whom they share common interests. They get updates from the sites, add to and access a wide range of information from web pages. They are also able to join virtual groups, find new acquaintances and communicate with existing groups. This has made possible for people to discover their common interests and nurture their relationships. Social networks like Linkedln allow people to make business and professional connections. Thus, the internet eliminated geographical and time barrier.

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People and organizations find it easy to conduct international business and trade. It is possible to engage in electronic commerce where people can make purchases, order for goods, make sales and pay for them online. Internet users can access companies’ websites and buy or order for the goods they want. The internet also allows one to make online financial transactions through credit cards, loyalty cards and visa cards. In addition, the internet has improved global competitiveness plus productivity of businesses. Businesses can access essential information regarding their business processes and therefore adopt efficient electronic transaction processes. Management consulting firms can also offer their expertise and solutions to businesses across the globe and help them improve their business processes and business strategies.

The internet has become a useful political tool. Politicians and political parties have used the internet to convince the general public to buy their ideas and join their sides or parties. People can participate in political and social discussions from their homes. Websites, social networks and emails have often been used to pass messages to potential audiences, solicit donations, organize campaigns and mobilize the general public to protest against a political course. Webpages and blogs provide essential outlet for opinion as well as information which is useful for making political decisions and stands. This has in turn led to internet activism. Some governments like the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia have responded to this by restricting religious as well as political content that the general public can access.

The internet threatens privacy of its users. It has become a platform for exposing private information of individuals as it provides sites for social interactions through some of its popular social networks. Again, companies and individuals use spyware to obtain information about individuals without their knowledge and consent. Hackers can hack confidential personal information of individuals for personal gains and track others online communication for blackmail or malicious reasons.

The internet also compromises security of individuals and organizations. Fraudsters and hackers have used software to transfer money from banks and individual accounts and to illegally access confidential information, which includes proprietary rights, business information or personal information for their malicious gains (Castells, 2000).

The internet has also contributed significantly to moral decay in the society. It has been used to create and distribute pornographic pictures and videos (Castells, 2000). Children are exposed to pornographic content at earlier age through the internet (Barlow, Birkets, Kelly & Slouka, 1995). This has promoted child pornography as many people take advantage of underage girls and use them to act pornographic movies which they later sell through the internet or allow free access to potential online viewers. This makes children be vulnerable to abuse.

Again, the internet has provided the platform for distributing narcotic drugs and for recruiting gangs especially the younger age to distribute these drugs. Some websites which seem attractive to youths are sometimes used by gangs to recruit members and spread their wings and activities. Some of these websites have contents which depict and encourage violence. These have sometimes influenced youths to engage in violent activities or gangs and adapt violent behavior.

The impact of the internet on the Middle East revolution

The internet technology has played a significant role in mobilizing protestors as well as transmitting information in real time across the world. This has had an impact on the politics and democracy in the Middle East. The internet is supporting political revolutions in Bahrain, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and many more. Grassroots activists use the internet to facilitate their activities. The internet provides a platform where people who have the same feeling and interest for their country can bond, and come together to fight for a common political course in these country’s which have experienced political dictatorship and economic crimes. Social networks and the internet provide a recipe for fighting for political freedom. It drives people’s ambition as they get to know how free other people live in other countries across the world, and therefore they come to believe that it is upon them to make the changes happen. Social networks and technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Twitpic and YouTube have been used in the early stages to accelerate political protests. The internet and social networks have been used to transmit information which gives people political optimism as political activists spread messages of against corruption, torture, unending poverty as well as unemployment.

On the other hand, the internet provides dictators with the opportunity to survey and monitor the activities of political activists and pro-democrats. Dictators and authoritarian governments filter what people access on the internet as they try to shut-down the protestors. In some countries in the Middle East, people have been killed for accessing opposition websites or posting anti-government news on webpages or blogs. Alterman (2011) notes that the government of Saudi Arabia has banned many sites and restricted access by using filters and firewalls on websites which are deemed to contain undesirable information. A Saudi who tries to access a banned site receives information warning him or her that his or her attempts to access that site has been noted and logged.

Such protests fuelled by the internet made the Yemeni leader agree not to run for another term or hand over leadership to his son. Bashar al-Assad, Syrian President announced in end January that the government is trying to avoid possible revolutions. Jordan is also trying to avoid undergoing revolutions such as those experienced in Egypt and Tunisia.

Conclusion

The development of the internet began in the 1950s as a way of improving military network and coordination and has had great technological advancements such that we now enjoy communicating through the World Wide Web. The internet has significantly contributed to globalization by increasing the speed of communication and eliminating geographical barriers to international business, information, jobs among others. However, it has also come with social challenges such as fraud, child pornography, security and privacy issues which we still have to deal with.

Reference List

Aboba, B. & Cerf, V. (1993). How the internet came to be. Web.

Alterman, J. B. (2011). The Middle East’s information revolution. Web.

Baran, P. (1964). On distributed communications. Web.

Barlow, J. P., Birkets, S., Kelly, K, & Slouka, M. (1995). What Are We Doing On-Line? Harper’s, 291: 35-46.

Castells, M. (2000). The rise of the network society, 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Castells, M. (1998). End of millennium. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Coffman, K. G., & Odlyzko, A. M. (1998). The size and growth rate of the Internet. AT&T Labs. Web.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (2011). DARPA: History. Web.

Living Internet site. (2011). Internet history. Web.

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