The Internet is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Interestingly, unlike technologies such as the light bulb or the telephone, the Internet has no single ‘inventor’ but it evolved over time and many people contributed to its development.
It all started in the United States more than 60 years ago.
In the 1950’s, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite into space. Americans were shocked by the news: the USA and the Soviet Union were enemies and the relations between the countries were so bad, that the period was called the Cold War. If the Soviet Union could launch a satellite into space, it was also possible it could launch a nuclear missile at North America. Americans were losing the race, so the government decided that investing in science and technology was the key to winning the Cold War. As a result, the American government founded NASA and the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). It also decided that schools and universities should teach more science, math and technology classes.
The US government was also worried about what would happen if the country’s telephone system was destroyed by the Soviets. Then people would not be able to communicate and the country would fall into chaos. Thus, scientists came up with a solution: they decided to build a network of computers that could communicate with each other and send information from one computer to another. Such a network would make it possible for government leaders to communicate even if the Soviets destroyed the telephone system.
The first wide-area computer network was built in 1965; it connected a computer in Massachusetts to a computer in California. At that time, a computer was the size of a small house! At the same time the first computers only had a tiny part of the power and processing ability you can find in modern computers. Also, there was no way to connect computers. ARPA wanted change that and created a computer network that was called ARPANET. Without ARPANET, the Internet wouldn’t look or behave the way it does today, it might not even exist!
In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee developed a system designed to make navigation on the Internet easier and made it possible for people to access the information on the Internet. This system became known as the World Wide Web. Many people think the Internet and the Web as the same thing. However, this is a mistake. In fact, the Internet is a huge network of computers and networks, all connected together, while the World Wide Web is a way to navigate this network. We use the Internet to access the web. It’s like comparing an ocean (the Internet) to a ship (the www). The world wide web connected the world in a way that was not possible before and made it much easier for people to get information, share and communicate. It allowed people to share their work and thoughts through social networking sites, blogs and video sharing.
In 1971 electronic mail, or e-mail, was invented as a way to send a message from one computer to another.
In 1976, Queen Elizabeth of England became the first head of state to send an email. Jimmy Carter was the first US President who started using email.
In 1992, the US Congress decided that the Web could be used for commercial purposes. As a result, companies started to set up websites of their own, and e-commerce was born.
Over time, the Internet became an inseparable part of our lives. Nowadays, it is hard to imagine how people were able to live, communicate and work without it!