Friday, August 31, 2012

The Dawn of the Internet

The Dawn of the Internet

Listening to a one-hit-wonders, Video Killed the Radio Star, (See, the Bugles version 1979 on Youtube,, one is struck by the pace with which new technologies come and go. Youtube, created in 2005 by three early twenty-somethings, is the inspiration for the idea for this paper.

Video killed the Radio Star

I heard you on my wireless back in '52
Lyin' awake intent on tuning in on you
Rewritten by machine on new technology
What did you tell them?
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Pictures came and broke your heart,
we can't rewind we've gone too far
Put all the blame on VCR
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star

The newest of new technologies is the internet, which like all new technologies can be both a force for good and bad. The benefits of the internet are principally speed and information. Never before in the history of mankind has such a volume of information been available to the user at the touch of a keyboard.  Internet is a virtual treasure trove of data. And data on any topic under the sun is available. Search engines like Google, Yahoo sort your request for information. And, in a nanosecond, offer up a smorgasbord of data on any given search topic.

It is all the more amazing that the new technology called the internet has only been around since the 1960’s. Then, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, was the world's first operational packet switching network, allowing communication between computer users. The term "packet switching" is copied and pasted from the internet. Simply said,  ARPANET was the first electronic sharing of information. One might argue for radio, invented by Nikola Tesla in 1891 (If you thought it was Marconi, then look it up on the internet. See, Wikipedia, Radio transmissions did not have the permanence of the internet.

The internet is, to today’s generation, old history. But, the browser, invented in 1990 by Sir Tim Berner-Lee and popularized in 1993 by Marc Andreesen, is history in the making. So too, are the search engines like Yahoo and Google. The ubiquitous Google was first incorporated on September 4, 1998, and its public offering followed on August 19, 2004. This makes the world’s most visited internet site the newest of new technologies.

Like the radio stares of the fifties and sixties, and the video stars of the seventies and eighties, we should not be too quick to close the book on innovation. Video cassette recorders which created video stars, like the radio stars, are now just memories. Technology is relentless in its drive to improve.  What survives must adapt and change to today’s needs are cease to exist. It is as if Herbert Spencer's idea of "survival of the fittest" was applied to the digital world. A visit to the video closet reminds us of the fleeting glory of new technology.

Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, observes that the processing speed, memory capacity, and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras doubles every two years. New technologies undreamt of are on the horizon. Fortunes await. Don't go West, go Digital.

How are we, the generation of the 21st Century, to view the internet? Is it like Mary Shelley’s fictional monster in the book Frankenstein? And is the internet, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster to become a “fallen angel” or worse, a “malignant devil”?
What are the evils of the internet? The naysayers list three – first that the internet makes information commonly available; second, that it generates drivel; and, third, that it stifles creativity with its ability to copy and paste. The naysayers of the internet are the new Luddites of the 21st century, the Taliban of cultural correctness.

Information is not bad in and of itself. It is in its use that harms results. Google (used as a verb and not a noun) the phrase “How to make an atom bomb” and one gets 4,040,000 search results in 0.30 seconds. That one has not been made is not a matter of knowledge, but of the due diligence of the public in preventing just that. The desire to possess knowledge, our insatiable curiosity is the mark of mankind. Like Pandora’s Box, the good comes with the bad and must be tempered by the hope that we will uses the internet for good purposes. No coincidence that Google’s (used as a noun and not a verb) unofficial mantra is “Don’t be evil.”

Drivel can be defined as “childish, silly, or meaningless talk or thinking; nonsense; twaddle” See, It is the water that drips from your mouth at night when we sleep. Certainly the internet contains an enormous amount of drivel. Never before in the history of mankind has it occurred that anyone possessing a computer and a keyboard can become an author using Blogger or Wordpress, or a photographer using Flicker and Photobucket. As fast as the universe expands, 48 miles a second, See The difference is that the universe expands at a Hubble constant, the expansion of drivel and real information on the internet is one that is accelerating like the early moments of the Big Bang.

Is the amount and content of the information to be discounted? If history is a teacher, then the answer is no. And, the answer was written more than 500 years ago by Desiderus Erasmus, who commented on another technological invention of his day – the printing press. Erasmus, in his book, In Praise of Folly, observed that sometimes fun is the point of writing. From such fun often comes important discoveries. For the young and foolish at heart, one can read this foolishness online. See,

Last of the dire warnings of the internet is that of the English teachers who condemn the plagiarizers of the works of others. Copy and paste, to them, is the greatest of sins. And, in this warning there is some merit. To copy another’s creative thought and pass it off as one’s own is theft. It is also an intellectual laziness that neither contributes to the sum total of human knowledge or to the advancement of the student him or herself. Yet, even then, there is an argument to be made for copy and paste.

Certainly, no one decries the use of copy and paste when attribution is properly made. “No man is an island” (See John Donne, Meditation XVII, And it is the exchange of ideas and information which propels civilization forward. Moreover, ideas and information are two distinct concepts. One might repeat information gathered from multiple sources throughout the internet, but it is the organization of the information as ideas that are unique. Read Marcus Pearce’s Notes on Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation, found on the internet. See,

One wonders what the English teachers of old would have said about the thousands of monks of the Middle Ages, who labored on in anonymous toil, copying by hand original manuscripts. These plagiarizers of old kept the bright flame of knowledge alive. Finally, copy and paste keeps the academic staff fully employed on the internet searching for those who take such impermissible shortcuts. Academic plagiarism is inevitable. And it is the internet, the source of the plagiarism, which is also its discoverer.

The internet has not killed today's student; it has instead spawned a new generation of ideas and thoughts. It has opened up the opportunity to participate in the world of knowledge to the most remote corners of the world. Climbing on Mt. Long, Colorado once, it was an eight hour walk that began in the darkness of pre-dawn, I met a computer programmer who did his work from anywhere in the world. The internet is a liberating experience, allowing mankind to develop a greater potential for doing good. The internet is the dawn of a new and glorious morning.

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