The Internets Past & Future
MAKING SENSE OF IT ALL
by Olen R. Pearson & Chris Coffin
"Where did the Internet come from?"
The Internet was conceived in the 1960s at the Advanced Research Projects
Agency (ARPA), an office of the U.S. Department of Defense. The idea was to ease the
bottlenecks in computer communications. At that time, two computers could communicate only
via a single lineand only one computer message could use the line at a time. If you
cut the line, you cut the linklike a railroadand lost the message.
What ARPA did was to begin transmitting computer messages in
small parts, called packets, so that each independently addressed packet could be
transmitted to its destination in any order and by any available line. When all the
packets of a given message had arrived at the destination, they were simply reassembled
there into the original message.
In this way, each line could carry many computer messages at
once. Instead of message "trains" that stacked up waiting to use the "rail
line," one at a time, they were now broken down into independent cars, all traveling
a highway at onceto various destinations.
Not only did this packeting protocol address the computer
communications bottleneck problems, it also made transmissions much more reliable. Since
the packets of any given message might travel along many different lines, a break in any
one line would lose only a few packets from the message. The remainder would arrive safely
(via other, unbroken lines) at the receiving computer, which could then detect the missing
packets and signal the sending computer to re-send only those. Few messages were totally
lost, and any partial losses were quickly corrected. Clearly this was advantageous
militarily for computer links, which are vulnerable to the noise and interference of
modern warfare. But contrary to common belief, the Internet was not designed
specifically to "harden" computer communications against attack. Though
developed by the Pentagon, the packeting systems original purpose was simply to
relieve computer traffic jams.
Thus in 1969, a group of four computer systems (at UCLA, UC
Santa Barbara, Univ. of Utah, and Stanford Research Inst.) began to communicate in packets
and ARPANet was born. Its protocol proved very efficient. During the 1970s,
many more government, industry, research, and educational computer networks adopted it,
and e-mail and news group address schemes were soon developed to reconstruct packets into
messages of other useful types. Such inter-network ("Internet")
communications became the standard.
The current standard packeting scheme, called TCP/IP
("Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol"), was formally established in
1982. By then, the number of networks connected to the Internet had multiplied greatly,
but its use was still generally limited to the transmission of technical text and
databy those who could operate the rather user-unfriendly computers of the day.
Those computers used an operating system called UNIX, still used at many technical
institutions. UNIX is very large and powerful but rather crypticlots of abbreviated
commands to type (no point-and-click). In fact, the DOS operating system for PCs is
really just a smaller set of commands adapted from UNIX (which explains the move to the
more user-friendly Windows operating system today). The Internet was still difficult and
in-accessible for the general public.
That all changed, however, beginning with the explosion of
personal computing in the 1980s. With so many more individuals using computers,
demand soon grew for better, friendlier computer communication.
Then in the early 1990s, an additional Internet
addressing scheme was added, to allow the information packets to represent a more complex
type of message. No longer limited to text-only sorts of transmissions (e.g. e-mail or
news groups), now you can send and receive entire pages of text, pictures,
soundalmost any sort of information. Thats what the World Wide Web really is:
Its information stored on computers all of the worldviewable by anyone via the
Internet and its data packeting scheme.
"What does the Internet look like?"
Well, what does the phone system look like? Its a collection of wires and
switches and cables that ties together all the various local phone companies and
ex-changes. Each local company, in turn, has the hardware to connect all the phones in its
Similarly, as of 1997, the Internet has joined over 275,000
networks, some 25 million host computers, and hundreds of millions of users in 150
countries. The U.S. portion is supported by national ISPs, "backbones"
spanning the nation with high-speed data lines. Each backbone connects to on-line
services, smaller ISPs, and other networks operated by educational, government, business
and other concerns. Those local networks, in turn, offer connection to their
clientsemployees, businesses, households, etc. Thus, each data packet has many
"Where is the Internet going?"
First of all, theres the technology question, which is fascinating. In a
nutshell: information devices will continue to get faster, smarter, and more
Faster This doesnt mean you will have to
go any faster. It means you wont have to wait so much for the Internet to keep up
with you (i.e. no more jokes about the "World Wide Wait"). Advances in modems,
wire-less transmitters, and optical cabling will soon allow this. Eventually, just as your
cable TV receives signals that are fast enough now for live video, so a cabled or wireless
or accelerated Internet will be able to receive and send live-action video.
Voilátrue videophones: youll be able to talk and wave to Grandma!
Smarter You will be talking not only with other
people, but with your computer, too. Voice recognition and audio output (via headphones
and microphones) may be as standard as keyboard and mouse. Coming soon, also, are large, flat
video screens that youll be able to hang on a wall like picture frames.
More mobile Imagine an all-purpose personal
in-formation appliance, a small battery-operated device, the size of a cellular phone,
that sends and receives wireless signals via the Internet. In addition to doing e-mail and
the Web, it will be your videophone, pager and answering machine. It will have a small
built-in screen or a headset-and-eyeglasses option.
To learn more about these trends, watch for news articles or
debates on these issues and technologies:
Standardization of software. Every brand of computer must
communicate seamlessly with every other.
HDTV (High-Definition TV). Up to now, the technical
specs for TVs and computer screens were different, but as the line between the
Internet and TV blurs, manufacturers are debating a new standard video format: smoother,
sharper, widerlike a movie screen.
Flat-screen display technology. No more heavy, hot
picture tubes. Instead, flat screens will use millions of tiny crystalslike a
Display and processor speeds. Faster screens and
computers are more comfortable to use. There is less flicker on the screen and less
waiting for the computer.
Batteries and power usage. The more juice you can
put into a smaller, lighter (rechargeable) battery, the more independent you are with your
"Pipeline" capacity. The old phone lines
that carry Internet data (quite slowly) to your computer werent designed for it, of
course. But soon, data delivery speeds will rise, as modems and compression schemes
improve, or as cable or satellite systems come on-line.
"Pipeline" regulation. Like a power
company, whoever owns the Internet cable to your house has a monopoly that will need
regulation to keep rates reasonable.
Now, how will all this coming Internet technology affect
your life? One word: Individuality.
Organizations, businesses and
government will cater more toward you as an individual: With easier, more flexible
communication between top and bottom, youll see "flatter," more democratic
structuresfewer levels of authority. Now you can communicate instantly (and cheaply)
with anyone in the world, via voice or e-mail. And coming soon: two-way video.
With the Web ever more informative and interactive,
youll be more self-reliant in your consumer life, too. Youll use fewer
salespersons, brokers and other "middlemen," but more media and consumer
reporting. So we may see more "overnight sensations" in the marketplace and
higher volatility in financial markets.
With a whole world to shop in, youll no longer accept
cookie-cutter production and mass-marketing of generic products. If a vendor doesnt
offer more or less exactly what you want, youll just go elsewhere. This will put
more emphasis on custom-built or build-on-demand products, with more competitive pricing.
Smarter search engines and Web sites will help you find and
order any product or service on the planet; in-store shopping may therefore decline.
Information products will actually be "shipped" over the Internet, too: books,
films, music, news, performances, live events, banking, education, consulting, and other
professional services. Thus we may see more disputes over privacy, intellectual property,
international commerce/tariffs, censorship and national security.
To pay for your purchases, you will be able to use your
current charge cardsvia high-security data encryption. Or, you may be able to use
"metered" accounts (similar to your electric bill) set up and administered by
your ISP or bank.
With the information glut ever growing, youll demand
better and more specialized media to help you filter and organize it all: more news and
editorial sources, more screening, security and privacy tools.
Got a product or service to peddle? Youll be able to publicize it much more
easily, via the Web. But with everyone else doing the same thing, actual selling will be
as hard as ever. Your ads will need to be smarter and more content-rich. You will need
fewer true salespersons, but more who are highly skilled in creative multi-media, graphics
and written communication.
If this all sounds too fast-paced and jam-packed, keep in
mind that youll have more flexibility in your job, toohours, benefits, job
descriptionswith more home-based work and less business travel. Likewise, your
schooling will be more flexible (but more continuous), needing fewer traditional physical
campuses but more for multimedia curricula. Youll customize everywhere,
thereby making the Internet right for you.
From The Family Internet Pocket Guide, by Olen R. Pearson & Chris
Coffin. Copyright © 1998 by Olen R. Pearson & Grapevine Publications, Inc. Excerpted
by arrangement with & Grapevine Publications, Inc. $3.95. Available in local
bookstores, or call 800-338-4331, or click here.