Cold War and the Internet

The Internet

The Internet, used by practically almost every person in a developed country, as well as institutions and businesses, and most importantly the government. The internet can be used for almost anything, from cat pictures to hacking and undermining entire governments. It is also a unlimited source of information,invaluable to researchers and university students worldwide. The usefulness of the internet as we know it in today’s society cannot be stressed enough, no child today can even imagine a life without smartphones or laptops. However, it was not always as such. How did the internet come about? Who invented it? Well, let’s find out.

The concept for the Internet, or the World Wide Web, was thought of in the early 1970s during the Cold War by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency basically wanted to find an effective alternative to telephones, a way to link computers and exchange information. But why the sudden need for this? On October 4 of 1957, the Soviet Union launched history’s first man-made satellite, Sputnik, into orbit. This was a giant wake up call for the Americans, despite claiming they had the best engineers and scientist, they somehow lost to the soviets in this space race. Hence the mass ramping up of scientific research in America. Schools, companies and universities all started to invest heavily in scientific areas.

The Government and military commanders were specially concerned about the consequences if a Soviet missile attack disabled the nation’s telephone system. A few well placed missiles could potentially destroy the whole network of wire lines and operating centers that made efficient long-distance communication possible. This would be catastrophic, a whole nation practically blinded. So the bright minds at DARPA thought of the internet, a “network” that could still function even if one part was destroyed or not functional.

In a very very simplified version, the idea was that multiple computers linked by a private network could communicate freely and transparently. If we could compare it to radio communication, a network at that time was like a radio frequency that only certain computers that are connected to it can access. Information, instead of radio waves, would be sent it data packets. Now packets are like little bits of the message, for example in an e-mail, once you hit the little “send” button, the email is broken down into many little packets (1500 bytes approximately), these packets have the information of their senders and receivers IP address, and are transmitted using the “Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)”. Each packet is then sent off to its destination by the best available route through the network, this means if one route is destroyed, the packets would simply be diverted around it. This is packet switching. All the packets then combined to form the final complete message at their destination, the receiver’s device. It’s almost like magic.

Packet_Switching.gif

— Basic animation of what kind of happens

Today, the internet is used everywhere, literally everywhere. It was a revolution, moving the world into an era of inter-connectivity. I can’t think of a single effective, modern institute that does not utilize the internet in some way. You’re probably reading up this blog on the internet. There are millions of unique websites, providing a wealth of knowledge about any imaginable subject. Its almost hard to imagine that the idea that spawned this new age in human history, was because some Americans were afraid the Russians would bomb their phones.


Bibliography:

http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/what-internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet-related-networks

http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/what-internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet-related-networks

http://computer.howstuffworks.com/question525.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Packet_switching

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