The Internet turns 50: the evolution of this network

October 29, 2019

           It all started in Room 3420 in today’s UCLA Boelter Hall. October 29th marks the birthday of the Internet, the massive network that permits you to read this article and learn endlessly about other information.  This birthday is a big one: the 50th.  There are some things you may not have known about this great invention that has existed for half a century now.  For instance, did you know that the first message ever sent on the Internet was a typo?  According to a USA Today article, Leonard Kleinrock, a computer science professor at UCLA, and his graduate student Charley Kline wanted to send a transmission from UCLA’s computer to a computer at Stanford Research Institute through ARPANET, the network connecting universities working under the Department of Defense.  The message that Kleinrock and Kline attempted to send was “login,” but the system crashed for an hour after they typed the “o.”  The whole word was sent after an hour, but the “L” and “O” signifies “hello,” which brought about the birth of online messaging and started a revolution leading up to the Internet that we know today.  In 1971, the first email was sent by MIT researcher Ray Tomlinson, using the @ symbol to designate a recipient.  Communication was now innovating through the ARPANET, but there was a need for multiple computers to communicate through the same network rather than separate ones.  Fast forward to 1989, and the rest of the World Wide Web was invented by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, including web pages and the technology to access and share them.

            As you can probably imagine, people in the early 90’s had trouble understanding this most recent invention.  This YouTube video of a clip from the “Today Show” does a pretty good job of capturing people’s confusion. Our younger readers may get a kick out of Bryant Gumbel not understanding the @ symbol. But it really was that complicated (and may still be for older generations). There were many creative ways in which experts attempted to explain the Internet to new users, such as Scholastic’s book that depicts a young boy literally “surfing” the Internet; magazines like TIME and Popular Mechanic designing bizarre cover pages; and stock images depicting the Internet’s vastness. 

            Today, the Internet offers us all endless opportunities to learn and network, from social media to news outlets and more.  It is easy to take for granted, but we should all appreciate the fact that a small technical error changed the cyber world for the better.

Written By: Anthony Luparello



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