Today in Digital Rhetoric, we’re covering the history of the internet in about 35 minutes. Considering that some programs devote an entire course to this, I am feeling the pressure to make the lesson meaningful and informative.
I like to focus on the origins of the internet, ARPAnet, and its links to the military-industrial complex. To me, a lot of the issues we face today are rooted in the internet’s early focus on connecting research institutions engaged in the Space Race.
At the same time, I want to talk about some of the cool stuff that the early internet afforded. For example, MUDs (Multi User Dungeons) created spaces for people to meet and play. For example, when I lived in Scotland in the mid-1990s, telnet allowed me to meet up with my friends back home and chat for free.
I also remember using Mosaic. In the early 90s, my high school received a grant for internet access and education. Below, is a good example of what “surfing” the web looked like back then. I remember waiting entire minutes for a page to load if it had a lot of images. At the same time, I took a rudimentary coding class in which we learned the basics of HTML and LINUX. And, while I resented taking these classes at the time (Why do I need to learn programming? I’m going to be an English major?!), I still use these skills today.
Today, we take the glitzy interface of the web for granted. Even WYSIWYG software like that which runs this WordPress blog hides the architecture that holds the internet together. I reminds me of HGTV shows like House Hunters in which people walk through a home and complain about the paint and the carpet. In many ways, I think this exactly what Karl Stolley addresses in the Lo-Fi Manifesto.
By understanding the relationship between the web and the internet and the history of the development of both, we can begin to see how issues of access, race, gender, and corporate interest play out today.