A Brief and Fascinating History of the Internet from the 1960s to Today

Internet code
Internet code (Image by James Osborne from Pixabay).

Learn more about the growth of today’s most popular technology in this brief and fascinating history of the Internet from the 1960s until the present day. At the personal level, most of us (who are old enough) became involved in the Internet in the mid-1990s.

The Internet is a fascinating nexus of technology. You can do everything from look up recipes to research your business competitors to track data on the assembly line to track a shipped package to find today’s breaking news to study ancient history, and communicate with friends and family. The Internet is truly a tool that helps the world go round. And while we may use it multiple times every day, we hardly ever think about its origins. The history of the Internet is fascinating and even overwhelming.




The 1960s–1970s

The origins of the Internet date back to the development of packet switching (grouping data and transmitting it over a digital network) and research commissioned by the United States Department of Defense in the 1960s to enable time-sharing of computers.The first Internet connection was between two computers at Stanford and UCLA. The network was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), and it ran on packet-switching technology. The very first message sent between the computers? The word “login.” Shortly after, Harvard, MIT, and BBN created another ARPANET network between them.

Unix also came about in the late 1960s. This operating system is essentially the base system of Linux and FreeBSD, which are in use in modern-day web servers. In the late 1960s, programmers dreamed up the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and brought it to fruition, paving the way for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).




Internetworking research in the early 1970s was led by Bob Kahn at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and Vint Gray Cerf at Stanford University. Later DARPA formulated the Transmission Control Program (TCP), which incorporated concepts from the French CYCLADES project directed by Louis Pouzin. As this work progressed, an Internet protocol (IP) was developed as a suite with TCP by which multiple separate networks could be joined into a network of networks. Version 4 of TCP/IP was installed in ARPANET for production use in January 1983 after the Department of Defense adopted the standard technology for all military computer networking

The early 1970s introduced email, along with Project Gutenberg, which was a global project that focused on making books and other public documents available electronically at no cost. The eBook was the result.

In 1973, ARPANET expanded beyond its US-based connection and connected with the University College of London. Most activity on the ARPANET network? Email. But it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that “reply” and “forward” became options.

The late 1970s introduced the development of the first online chat system. Usenet, which was launched in 1980, allowed people from around the world to talk about various topics by posting public messages. These messages were then categorized in a system that resembled a Bulletin Board System (BBS).




The 1980s–1990s

The early 1980s also established DNS (domain name servers). This system made Internet addresses (domain names) friendlier than IP addresses for humans. The emoticon came to the public forefront in 1982 after it was first used on a BBS at Carnegie Mellon University.

Through the ’80s and ’90s, the Internet grew in popularity. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) came about in the late ’80s. IRC allowed people to chat in real time over instant messaging programs. Around the same time, AOL launched, and the World Wide Web was proposed. The World Wide Web emerged in 1990. Netscape, released in 1994, was the popular browser. The first test SMS message (Short Message Service or “text message”) was sent on December 3, 1992, when Neil Papwort, a test engineer for Sema Group, used a personal computer to send “Merry Christmas” to the phone of colleague Richard Jarvis. Also in 1992, the initial release of JPEG marked the beginning of the capability to transfer color photos consisting of compressed data. In 1998, Google and music-sharing service Napster went live for the first time in 1999. Audio files began to transition to MP3 formats.

The 2000s

The Internet gained momentum in the 2000s. Internet Explorer took over Netscape’s share of the browser market, and became the most widely used web browser with a peak share of 95% usage in 2003. Social media emerged in the form of MySpace (founded 2003), Digg (founded 2004), and eventually Facebook (originally The Facebook founded in 2004). YouTube was founded in 2005 and purchased by Google in 2007 for $1.65 billion. One of the founders, Steve Chen, attended John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights during his freshman year. His next three years of secondary school education were at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois. Next he studied computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In late 2010, SMS was the most widely used data application in the world, with an estimated 3.5 billion active users, or about 80% of all mobile phone subscribers.

Parallel along the development of Internet technology per se, was the development of hardware and infrastructure, such as routers, cable modems, wireless mobile telecommunications technology (3G), broadband cellular network technology (4G, 5G), security protocols, DDoS mitigation (avoidance of distributed denial-of-service attack), faster processors, and faster computers, tablets, and smartphones.

The Internet of Things grew from industrial and commercial use to residential use, including smart watches, smart appliances, and smart home security systems. Now, the Internet is even available in our vehicles and other mobile applications. While this brief and fascinating history of the Internet highlighted the expansion of the technology, the expectations of the future bring hope and concern regarding artificial intelligence, human-machine interface enhancement, cybernetics, social media stress and abuse, privacy, censorship and freedom of expression, and the threat of technocracy and loss of freedom and systemic profit over people.

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