Peculiarities of Cyberspace

The Birth of the Internet from the fallout shelter

In 1962 Paul Baran wrote a Rand Corporation report On Distributed Communications in which he discusses how the U.S. military could protect its communication systems from serious attack. In this report he outlines the principle of 'redundancy of connectivity' and explores various models of forming non-vulnerable communication systems. He proposes a communication systems in which there would be no obvious central command and control point. All surviving points would be able to re-establish contact in the event of an attack on any one point. In this system damage to a part would not destroy the whole and its effect on the whole would be minimized. Baran proposed a national public utility to transport computer data, much in the way the telephone system transports voice data. In september 1969 the first ARPANET Information Message Processor was installed at UCLA. This could be seen as the birth of the Internet.

  • "The Internet we make so much of today -- the global Internet which has helped scholars so much, where free speech is flourishing as never before in history -- the Internet was a Cold War military project. It was designed for purposes of military communication in a United States devastated by a Soviet nuclear strike. Originally, the Internet was a post-apocalypse command grid.

  • And look at it now. No one really planned it this way. Its users made the Internet that way, because they had the courage to use the network to support their own values, to bend the technology to their own purposes. To serve their own liberty. Their own convenience, their own amusement, even their own idle pleasure. When I look at the Internet -- that paragon of cyberspace today -- I see something astounding and delightful. It's as if some grim fallout shelter had burst open and a full-scale Mardi Gras parade had come out."
    Bruce Sterling & William Gibson [1993] Literary Freeware -- Not for Commercial Use. Speeches to National Academy of Sciences Convocation on Technology and Education, May 10, 1993, Washington, D.C.: Computer Underground Digest 5.54.

So the internet started as a Cold War military project. But thirty years later the political scene has changed dramatically. Nowadays the biggest capitalist tycoon of the Western hemisphere, Bill Gates, wants to use old Russian nuclear missiles to wrap an Internetweb around the world. Gates' Teledesic Corporation in buying SS-18 rockets from the Russians. They are necessary to launch 22 satellites in the years 2000 and 2001. With these satellites Gates wants to construct a network of 840 satellites around the earth, which all owners of a PC in the world would give direct access to the internet.

Historical Resources

  1. A Brief History of the Internetwritten by people who made it.

  2. The History of the Netby: Henry Edward Hardy (Univ. Michigan)

  3. Naughton, John [2000]
    A Brief History of the Future: Origins of the Internet.
    Overlook Press.

  4. Netizens - On the history and impact of Usenet and the Internetby: Michael Hauben & Ronda Hauben.

  5. Noble, David F. [1999]
    The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention.
    New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

  6. In the SocioSite you'll find more knowledge resources on the History of the Internet.