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An Introduction to the Internet

Simon Pitt | Internet | Friday 24th April 2009

In December 1974, three incredibly boring computer scientists, Vinton Cerf, Yogen Dalal and Carl Sunshin released a 70-page document, specifying protocol RFC 675. The paper was boring beyond your most stolid dreams, written in courier (the font that renders anything written in it unspeakably dry). It contained sentences like:
If W/K is greater than U, the difference must be retransmissions which is undesirable, so the window should be reduced to W', such that W'/K is approximately equal to U.
However, what the paper described was the brand new, and as yet unheard of, "internetwork transmission Control Program". Geeks across the world got excited by this, since using this technology they would be able to connect to their geeky friends on the other side of the world and tell them just how excited they were by this new technology.

At the time, everyone was too busy getting excited by the prospect of transmitting lines of plain text across the world to realise that this dry TCP specification would go on to change the lives of everyone on the planet forever.

Despite its inauspicious beginnings, the Internet has become one of the most significant changes to the modern world. How it works and how it began is pretty much irrelevant. All you need to know is that it is on track to replace pretty much everything that has come before it, has already changed your life forever, and, in all likelihood, will change your life even more in the future. It has already replaced books, newspapers and the radio. With the rise of VOIP ("voice over internet protocol" or, in layman's terms "you get your phone through your internet and get cheaper calls") the internet is replacing the telephone as well. Moreover, since iPlayer, 4oD and whatever ITV are calling their pathetic attempt to jump on the bandwagon, the Internet is beginning to replace the television as well.

What was revolutionary about the Internet, really, was (and is) that anyone could write something and stick it online and instantly everyone on the planet could see it (as this very article demonstrates). Moreover they could do so without any sort of skill or talent or editorial justification (something else that this article demonstrates). With this in mind, the Internet has become what some people might call "a window onto the collective consciousness of the world". Not me though - I'd call it a porn-filled, advert-ridden, excuse to illegally share copyrighted materials and for irresponsible pubescent children to spread computer viruses that they weren't clever enough to code, doing inconceivable damage in an attempt to make themselves feel important.

But if that's the state of the modern Internet, what's so great about it, and why does everyone love it so much? In the following few articles I intend to provide a brief, sometimes outlandish, occasionally facetious, frequently contradictory and repeatedly biased account of the internet. I will examine what it is, what it isn't, and what it has done to the world and provide an incredibly incomplete review of the Internet as it is today.

SP



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