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Which invention was more important the internet or the telegraph

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It was the same size and shape as a household refrigerator, and outwardly, at least, it had about as much charm. But Kleinrock was thrilled: Had he tried to explain his excitement to anyone but his closest colleagues, they probably wouldn't have understood. The few outsiders who knew of the box's existence couldn't even get its name right: Needless to say, though, the box that arrived outside Kleinrock's office wasn't a machine capable of fostering understanding among the great religions of the world.

It was much more important than that. It's impossible to say for certain when the internet began, mainly because nobody can agree on what, precisely, the internet is.

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This is only partly a philosophical question: But 29 October 1969 — 40 years ago next week — has a strong claim for being, as Kleinrock puts it today, "the day the infant internet uttered its first words". Samuel Morse, sending the first telegraph message 125 years previously, chose the portentous phrase: It's interesting to compare how much has changed in computing and the internet since 1969 with, say, how much has changed in world politics.

Consider even the briefest summary of how much has happened on the global stage since 1969: And yet nothing has quite the power to make people in their 30s, 40s or 50s feel very old indeed as reflecting upon the growth of the internet and the world wide web.

Twelve years after Charley Kline's first message on the Arpanet, as it was then known, there were still only 213 computers on the network; but 14 years after that, 16 million people were online, and email was beginning to change the world; the first really usable web browser wasn't launched until 1993, but by 1995 we had Amazon, by 1998 Google, and by 2001, Wikipedia, at which point there were 513 million people online.

Today the figure is more like 1. Unless you are 15 years old or younger, you have lived through the dotcom bubble and bust, the birth of Friends Reunited and Craigslist and eBay and Facebook and Twitterblogging, the browser wars, Google Earth, filesharing controversies, the transformation of the record industry, political campaigning, activism and campaigning, the media, publishing, consumer banking, the pornography industry, travel agencies, dating and retail; and unless you're a specialist, you've probably only been following the most attention-grabbing developments.

Forty years of the internet: how the world changed for ever

Here's one of countless statistics that are liable to induce feelings akin to vertigo: On the whole internet. On the one hand, they were there because of the Russian Sputnik satellite launch, in 1957, which panicked the American defence establishment, prompting Eisenhower to channel millions of dollars into scientific research, and establishing Arpa, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, to try to win the arms technology race. The idea was "that we would not get surprised again," said Robert Taylor, the Arpa scientist who secured the money for the Arpanet, persuading the agency's head to give him a million dollars that had been earmarked for ballistic missile research.

The Arpanet was not, in itself, intended as some kind of secret weapon to put the Soviets in their place: The notion that the network was designed so that it would survive a nuclear attack is an urban myth, though some of those involved sometimes used that argument to obtain funding. The technical problem solved by the IMPs wasn't very exciting, either.

It was already possible to link computers by telephone lines, but it was glacially slow, and every computer in the network had to be connected, by a dedicated line, to every other computer, which meant you couldn't connect more than a handful of machines without everything becoming monstrously complex and costly.

The solution, called "packet switching" — which owed its existence to the work of a British physicist, Donald Davies — involved breaking data down into blocks that could be routed around any part of the network that happened to be free, before getting reassembled at the other end. I thought that was a much more substantial and respectable research topic than merely connecting up a few machines. That was certainly useful, but it wasn't art. Kline typed an O. Kline typed a G, at which point the system crashed, and the connection was lost.

The G didn't make it through, which meant that, quite by accident, the first message ever transmitted across the nascent internet turned out, after all, to be fittingly biblical: Even when computers were mainly run on punch-cards and paper tape, there were whispers that it was inevitable that they would one day work collectively, in a network, rather than individually. In 1945, the American presidential science adviser, Vannevar Bush, was already imagining the "memex", a device in which "an individual stores all his books, records, and communications", which would be linked to each other by "a mesh of associative trails", like weblinks.

Others had frenzied visions of the world's machines turning into a kind of conscious which invention was more important the internet or the telegraph. And in 1946, an astonishingly complete vision of the future appeared in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction. In a story entitled A Logic Named Joe, the author Murray Leinster envisioned a world in which every home was equipped with a tabletop box that he called a "logic": It looks like a vision receiver used to, only it's got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get.

But besides that, if you punch for the weather forecast [or] who was mistress of the White House durin' Garfield's administration. The relays in the tank do it. The tank is a big buildin' full of all the facts in creation.

Ten parallels between the telegraph and the Internet in international politics

The only thing it won't do is tell you exactly what your wife meant when she said, 'Oh, you think so, do you?

It was a crucial idiosyncracy of the Arpanet that its funding came from the American defence establishment — but that the millions ended up on university campuses, with researchers who embraced an anti-establishment ethic, and who in many cases were committedly leftwing; one computer scientist took great pleasure in wearing an anti-Vietnam badge to a briefing at the Pentagon. Instead of smothering their research in the utmost secrecy — as you might expect of a cold war project aimed at winning a technological battle against Moscow — they made public every step of their thinking, in documents known as Requests For Comments.

An argument can be made that these unofficial tinkerings did as much to create the public internet as did the Arpanet. Well into the 90s, by the time the Arpanet had been replaced by NSFNet, a larger government-funded network, it was still the official position that only academic researchers, and those affiliated to them, were supposed to use the network.

It was the hobbyists, making unofficial connections into the main system, who first opened the internet up to allcomers. What made all of this possible, on a technical level, was simultaneously the dullest-sounding and most crucial development since Kleinrock's first message.

The Wright Brothers launched aviation. Jet engines greatly improved things. Nevertheless, by July 1992, an Essex-born businessman named Cliff Stanford had opened Demon InternetBritain's first commercial internet service provider.

  • It was much more important than that;
  • You could argue that the Telegraph had a greater impact on communications than the Internet;
  • Prior to the telegraph, politics and business were constrained by geography;
  • But 29 October 1969 — 40 years ago next week — has a strong claim for being, as Kleinrock puts it today, "the day the infant internet uttered its first words".

Officially, the public still wasn't meant to be connecting to the internet. After a which invention was more important the internet or the telegraph or so, Demon had between 2,000 and 3,000 users, but they weren't always clear why they had signed up: We would answer with 'Well, what do you want to do? Do you want to send an email? What happened next was the web. The birth of the web I sent my first email in 1994, not long after arriving at university, from a small, under-ventilated computer room that smelt strongly of sweat.

The test messages, Tomlinson has said, "were entirely forgettable, and I have, therefore, forgotten them". But according to an unscientific poll of friends, family and colleagues, 1994 seems fairly typical: I was neither an early adopter nor a late one. A couple of years later I got my first mobile phone, which came with two batteries: By the time I arrived at the Guardian, email was in use, but only as an add-on to the internal messaging system, operated via chunky beige terminals with green-on-black screens.

It took for ever to find the symbol on the keyboard, and I don't remember anything like an inbox, a sent-mail folder, or attachments. I am 34 years old, but sometimes I feel like Methuselah. I have no recollection of when I first used the world wide web, though it was almost certainly when people still called it the world wide web, or even W3, perhaps in the same breath as the phrase "information superhighway", made popular by Al Gore. For most of us, though, the web is in effect synonymous with the internet, even if we grasp that in technical terms that's inaccurate: But the distinction rarely seems relevant in everyday life now, which is why its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, has his own legitimate claim to be the progenitor of the internet as we know it.

The first ever website was his own, at CERN: The idea that a network of computers might enable a specific new way of thinking about information, instead of just allowing people to access the data on each other's terminals, had been around for as long as the idea of the network itself: But the grandest expression of it was Project Xanadu, launched in 1960 by the American philosopher Ted Nelson, who imagined — and started to build — a vast repository for every piece of writing in existence, with everything connected to everything else according to a principle he called "transclusion".

It was also, presciently, intended as a method for handling many of the problems that would come to plague the media in the age of the internet, automatically channelling small royalties back to the authors of anything that was linked.

Xanadu was a mind-spinning vision — and at least according to an unflattering portrayal by Wired magazine in 1995, over which Nelson threatened to sue, led those attempting to create it into a rabbit-hole of confusion, backbiting and "heart-slashing despair".

Nelson continues to develop Xanadu today, arguing that it is a vastly superior alternative to the web. Web browsers crossed the border into mainstream use far more rapidly than had been the case with the internet itself: Mosaic launched in 1993 and Netscape followed soon after, though it was an embarrassingly long time before Microsoft realised the commercial necessity of getting involved at all. Amazon and eBay were online by 1995. And in 1998 came Google, offering a powerful new way to search the proliferating mass of information on the web.

Until not too long before Google, it had been common for search or directory websites to boast about how much of the web's information they had indexed — the relic of a brief period, hilarious in hindsight, when a user might genuinely have hoped to check all the webpages that mentioned a given subject.

Without most of us quite noticing when it happened, the web went from being a strange new curiosity to a background condition of everyday life: I have no memory of there being an intermediate stage, when, say, half the information I needed on a particular topic could be found online, while the other half still required visits to libraries. Finally, he stopped telling acquaintances that he worked in "computers", and started to say that he worked on "the internet", and nobody thought that was strange.

It is absurd — though also unavoidable here — to compact the whole of what happened from then onwards into a few sentences: It is only this latter period that has revealed the true capacity of the web for "generativity", for the publishing of blogs by anyone who could type, for podcasting and video-sharing, for the undermining of totalitarian regimes, for the use of sites such as Twitter and Facebook to create and ruin friendships, spread fashions and rumours, or organise political resistance.

But you almost certainly know all this: The most confounding thing of all is that in a few years' time, all this stupendous change will probably seem like not very much change at all. As Crocker points out, when you're dealing with exponential growth, the distance from A to B looks huge until you get to point C, whereupon the distance between A and B looks like almost nothing; when you get to point D, the distance between B and C looks similarly tiny.

One day, presumably, everything that has happened in the last 40 years will look like early throat-clearings — mere preparations for whatever the internet is destined to become.

We will be the equivalents of the late-60s computer engineers, in their which invention was more important the internet or the telegraph glasses, brown suits, and brown ties, strange, period-costume characters populating some dimly remembered past. Will you remember when the web was something you accessed primarily via a computer?

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Will you remember when there were places you couldn't get a wireless connection? Will you remember when "being on the web" was still a distinct concept, something that described only a part of your life, instead of permeating all of it? Will you remember Google?