Defining the Internet: What is it and who is it

The Internet is popularly perceived as either a definitive and government-created (and controlled) international computer network–as if “The Internet” is an official and closed system, not unlike “The Post Office”–or as a free-wheeling, uncontrolled, chaotic, and unruly frontier. Neither one of these perceptions is entirely accurate because the Internet is, in fact, the result of conscious and controlled governmental efforts as well as independent and anarchistic actions.

Ironically, as most of the histories point out, the Internet originated in the early 1960’s as a proposal from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (part of the U.S. Department of Defense) and RAND Corporation to create a computer network that could survive a nuclear attack. A centralized communication network–like telephone networks, where information is shared between users through a centralized switching station–is obviously vulnerable because one successful attack on the center would destroy the system. According to Bruce Sterling’s “Short History of the Internet,” the RAND proposal (authored by Paul Baran) hypothesized a communication network with no centralized point. Rather, the network would be made up of “nodes” (more or less the equivalent of a single computer) that would each have equal authority and ability to create, pass along, and receive information to other nodes. —Steven D. KrauseDefining the Internet: What is it and who is it (The Immediacy of Rhetoric: Definitions, Illustrations and Complications)

Just bookmarking this for future reference.

I’ll be teaching “Writing for the Internet” again in the fall, and while I’m fairly sure the vast majority of my students will be digital natives, many of them won’t have thought much about the history and development of the internet.