The Internet Jungle

Where did the Internet come from? Where is the Internet located? How has it grown? Is there a plug to pull if one day we no longer want it? How did I discover the Internet?  

I remember the first personal computers. I remember using a modem to connect over phone lines to a computer or server. I remember using a modem to connect to the new world called the Internet. I remember the day a co-worker told me that he had just got cable Internet. “It’s just always there!”, he commented. That now seems to me to be a huge thing, a leap we never understood, never realized the impact of, and certainly never expected. It is always there, we are always connected to this vast unknown world that seems like a jungle—the Internet.

To learn a bit about where the Internet came from, we shall need to take a safari back in time and my life.  

It is probably hard to imagine life without the Internet portion of the Technojungle. It has crept into our lives and is going to creep even deeper into our human world in the years to come. Unlike my adult children, I do remember life without the Internet and even without computers. What I don’t remember, as a boomer, is life without TV. The primary form of immediate two way communication over a distance that most people used was the telephone. Our phone had a party-line—a phone line shared with our neighbours. Eventually, we did get our own phone line. 

Are you old enough to remember a time without some of the technologies, such as computers and the Internet? What was life like? Have you talked about this with anyone of a younger generation?

If something catastrophic went wrong with the Technojungle Internet and cell phone systems, could we shut them down and turn them off? Could we somehow escape the hold the Internet has on our lives if we needed to? We used to have a communication system that could, if necessary, be turned off, or even fail. For the years preceding cell phones, our phone system we now commonly call a landline, was analog not digital. Such a system could probably be disconnected if something better came along and it was no longer needed. 

In only a few decades, the telephone has become our best friend. We now call it a smartphone and it has learned how to do a lot more for us than it did when I first used the single phone hard-wired to the wall in our house. Today, we can’t live without our phone, or the Internet. We can’t seem to live without the Technojungle. Do you think you could manage to live your life now without a computer, the Internet, or a smartphone?

I remember when commercial and corporate use of the Internet was forbidden. This is a huge concept to keep in mind. Looking back, I can see the change in this policy by the governing bodies of the Internet to be a rather huge step. This changed the course of humanity in the Technojungle. I often wonder if corporate pressure forced the change. Certainly money was a major factor as large corporations obviously saw the financial opportunities.

The Internet that we know now was not designed in the form we experience it and was never imagined to have the uses it has today. As far back as the 1960s, ideas for connecting Technojungle computers together were being devised and developed. It would sure be interesting to go back in time an ask people involved what they expected the future of connected computers would be.

I first encountered the Internet as I struggled to get my BBS (see below) connected to the Internet. I also had extensive experience with the Internet while doing my Masters Degree at university and while working at a college. It crept quickly into my life. But where did it come from? 

There was somewhat of a chain reaction that set off development of the Internet Technojungle The network began with various smaller networks used by scientists, educational institutions, libraries and even the U.S. Military (DARPA) and later ARPA and ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). 

DARPA was formed by President Eisenhower in response to the Soviet Union launching Sputnik. As mentioned earlier, Sputnik was a small satellite that sent a beeping sound back to Earth which was broadcast around the world. People were amazed. The US was surprised, alarmed, even embarrassed, and this event launched the formation of NASA and space race with President Kennedy later stating that the Americans would land a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. 

During the cold war, it was proposed that major military establishments, including the Pentagon, should have a way to communicate that could survive a nuclear attack. Whether urban legend or not, a survivable network was definitely a core concept and motivation of Internet developers. 

Along with the important technologies developed during WWII, including the computer (discussed later), the above events and outcomes are extremely important. Many of the incredible technologies we have today have come to us as a result of the efforts of these, and other, agencies. 

We can certainly state that the Technojungle makes huge strides as a result of war, or the fear of war (defence). The conquering of space is also defence related. The technologies of the Post-modern Technojungle, such as the Internet, are not the ingenious inventions of Edison-like inventors. They are the result of the political and economic efforts of governments and agencies, along with teams of brilliant people and unimaginable funding. 

Our online Technojungle, supported by the Internet, is the biggest most powerful business humankind has ever seen or participated in. We are going to explore and discover that there is so much more than meets the eye, so much under the surface. 

The secret to ensuring a message or file would reach its destination was to break the data up into packets that could be sent by the best route possible. Each time a packet is sent, the receiving computer or terminal would acknowledge that the transmission was successful. Then another packet would be sent. Not all related packets would be sent on the same path. Once all the packets reached their destination, they were reassembled into the original message or file. Eventually, this came to be known as packet switching. I suppose we could say it is like not putting all the eggs in one basket. Each packet has a header and a payload and are distributed through various paths on the networks.

Our online Technojungle, supported by the Internet, is the biggest most powerful business humankind has ever seen or participated in. We are going to explore and discover that there is so much more than meets the eye, so much under the surface.

The Technojungle Internet bounced on the horizon. As the technologies grew, it became evident that separate networks being developed by many groups of people, using several technologies and providing a variety of functions, could be linked together into larger networks. Networks linked together would have to share standardized protocols. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) were the first, and do still today form the backbone of the Internet. Every computer using the Internet must have an IP address and use TCP. You might have noticed that the Internet is a world of acronyms and initials. Everyone knows WWW (World Wide Web) and HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol). Some of you might know FTP (File Transfer Protocol).

There were some strange sounding services available during those early years. I tried Gopher to find information. I suppose it was go fer or go for, such as in Go for this and go for that. Also Janet (a UK based high speed network connecting educational and research institutions). File Transfer Protocol (FTP), still common today, was used to download and upload files. There were other services that are now completely obscure, buried and hidden away from us in the Technojungle foliage of change. 

It was all very archaic in those early days of the online Technojungle, however, most of the standard protocols that were used during the 60s, 70s and 80s are still underlying the Internet today. They have evolved and become more sophisticated. Mostly, these early services were accessed through a text interface. There was no way of displaying images or audio with text. Text was mono-spaced characters that had no style. There were no fonts. The computer screen was a small window to one long vertical band of scrolling lines of text. If you wanted to print something, you could do a screen dump to a dot-matrix printer. As the name suggests, this type of printer used a series of dots to form a rudimentary matrix of dots that could represent characters of text. [Pull Quote: I remember when commercial and corporate use of the Internet was forbidden. This is a huge concept to keep in mind. Looking back, I can see the change in this policy by the governing bodies of the Internet to be a rather huge step. This changed the course of humanity in the Technojungle.

I remember when commercial and corporate use of the Internet was forbidden. This is a huge concept to keep in mind. Looking back, I can see the change in this policy by the governing bodies of the Internet to be a rather huge step. This changed the course of humanity in the Technojungle.

Eventually, in attempts to make the Internet and the Technojungle more human and user-friendly, a program might be available that would provide a graphical front-end to the text-based Internet. During my early experiences with the online world, I used services like CompuServ and America Online (AOL). These were huge complex subscription service systems with discussion areas, E-mail, file downloads, and other services, eventually providing access to the early Internet. These programs, or client programs, stored images and sounds on your computer as part of the program. While the actual online service was text-based, the program provided a front-end graphical user interface (GUI—pronounced goo-ey) for the person accessing the service. This, of course, only became possible once computers themselves had a GUI as first used by the Apple Macintosh and later by Microsoft Windows. The GUI for the online services presented the content and navigation through the GUI of the user’s computer.

Sorry for the long history lesson. Why is all this important? Stick with me for a few more minutes. Don’t wander off and get lost as I continue this little safari into the origins of the Technojungle Internet. The Internet is holding many carrots of promises in front of us to lure us into a future of hope—salvation through Technojungle technologies.

I discovered Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) in the early nineties. We used a modem (modulator/demodulator), a device that took digital computer signals and converted them to analog signals that could be transmitted over analog phone lines. We could log into another computer that was running a type of BBS server program. The BBS computer server also had a modem and often many phone lines, each with a modem. These were basically hobby systems and had functions like bulletin boards, now known as forums, where messages could be posted which someone could then reply to. There were areas where files were stored and downloaded, and a chat area for live typing back and forth. 

These BBSs were extremely archaic by today’s technology, yet, they mimicked the way the early Technojungle networks which eventually became the Internet. There were no webpages. One typed in a terminal mode as the text just scrolled on screen. There was a very active network of hobby BBSs called FidoNet. FidoNet had shared discussions that were accessed by users on various other BBSs. One day, I discovered the first Graphic User Interface (GUI) BBS. It was an expensive commercial product with a hobby version that was less expensive. I operated one of these BBSs for many years. 

Notice that the name BBS is meant to connote images of a bulletin board in some common space where people can post messages using thumbtacks or pins for other people to read.

My BBS eventually had a gateway which was an add-on that could connect to another Technojungle network. It would poll, that is log into a UNIX server to get information. UNIX is the industrial strength operating system of the Technojungle world of the Internet. 

As I was talking to the fellow who ran the UNIX system I was getting my USENET news feeds from, he suddenly asked if I had seen Mosaic. USENET (Users Network) was the first world-wide group of shared discussions like forums and BBSs in text form. At the time of this writing, USENET is still available. The UNIX operator continued to informed me that Mosaic was free and I could download the program and then click on hypertext links. 

It made no sense to me. He described a bit about webpages with images displayed along with the text. I was used to having to look at static text with images as separate files that had to be downloaded. This was my first experience with the notion that the Technojungle Internet is perceived as free along with its software. I was hooked.

Having a background in printing and publishing, I found the page layout of these early webpages displayed to me through Mosaic truly ugly and figured it would never be able to look decent and come even close to proper typesetting. It has come a long way, but still has plenty of limitations. Some of the limitations are due to the many ways a page might be displayed on various Technojungle device screens. Windows might be different sizes on other computers, fonts may vary and, worst of all, there are so many ads that just seem to be stuck in here and there. Pages are simply too busy. I still find most webpages ugly.

I find the indiscriminate placement of ads, and ads that pop up requiring the viewer’s action to remove them, to be most rude. It’s a Technojungle web trend I find particularly annoying and is what happens with so many webpages after loading. I am ready to, or have already started to, do something with the webpage when a box, window or something pops up and gets in my way. It won’t disappear until I find the often difficult to locate tiny X that I have to click on to close it. Another pesky characteristics of webpages is that often ads load more slowly than text and can cause what you have begun to read to suddenly jump around as they appear on the page.

I am reminded by this of the view one is accosted with on the highway leading to the bridge crossing Lake Okanagan into downtown Kelowna, British Columbia. After driving through the city of West Kelowna, or Westbank, a view of Okanagan Lake suddenly appears, however the curving downward highway toward the lake is obscured and obstructed by a plethora of billboards. This has always bothered me.] 

I remember when business people were asking why they would ever need a website. It was a hard sell for early web developers. Nobody had even an inkling of what was possible and where the technologies could go. In those early days, people were still accessing the Internet by phone and a modem, often called dial-up, and the speed was slow. One would employ the virtuous human trait of patience and wait for a webpage to load and scan down the screen. It might take fifteen minutes to transfer a file of 1 MB (megabyte). I remember when that was considered fast. Hard drives ranged in sizes of 20 to 80 MBs. When drives of 250 to 500 MBs came along, we wondered how we would ever use the space. It didn’t take long to fill up.

These were my early experiences with the Internet and I’m sure you can see they were awkward, cumbersome and dehumanizing. The Internet has improved, but I find that it is still archaic at times. There are plenty of things that can and do go wrong. This makes me wonder why we trust technology—the Technojungle—with so many important aspects of our lives. How do you feel about the safety and security of your information on the Internet? Check in with this question again once you have finished reading more of this book.

[Pull Quote: If we ever need to unplug, disconnect, or for any reason want to get rid of the Internet, it would continue to survive… If we ever wanted to unplug, disconnect, or for any reason decided to get rid of the Internet, it will continue to survive… It was designed with the human desire and need to survive. We are stuck with it forever and that is why we need to find ways to guarantee that humans are always in control.

It’s been around 50 years, and we have taken a seedling of the online Technojungle and grown a vast jungle of networks that has changed the course of humanity. This is such a short period of time, relative to human history and is an unprecedented massive growth compared to the growth of us as human beings. Take a moment to compare how we humans have grown as the result of the growth of the Technojungle? Sure we have incredible capabilities due to the Internet and the Technojungle, yet have our lives as human beings improved as much as the Internet has? Did this, or any other technology, solve the Cold War, or was it our humanness and humanity? Are we that much smarter than we were before the Internet came into our lives, or has the Internet learned more about us? If the last 50 years of the Internet moved it from awkward and cumbersome to what we have today, what might the next 50 years bring? Remember, there’s the expected and the unexpected to consider. We need to pay careful attention as to how changing technology—the Technojungle— affects our humanness and humanity.

One day I realized that there is really no centre or core to the Internet, or for the entire Technojungle. It can’t be shut down because it is actually many networks connected together, sharing the same technical standards for operating and using the packet switching method of making sure the bandwidth (think: how much water can flow through a pipe of a particular size) is used efficiently and that nothing gets lost. Thus, there is a very high degree of reliability. But here is the kicker. If we ever need to unplug, disconnect, or for any reason want to get rid of the Internet, it will continue to survive because it is not a single network. It has no real centre of operations and uses technologies that ensure data will always be able to find a path to deliver packets of data through. In other words, the Internet can’t be turned off or unplugged because it was designed to survive. It was designed with the human desire and need to survive. We are stuck with it forever and that is why we need to find ways to guarantee that humans are always in control—that we are prepared for the unexpected. Otherwise we become dehumanized.

The Internet has grown at an incredible rate. Just look at my experiences. I lived for decades with no computer. Then, from humble beginnings in the mid-1980s, suddenly my life is full of computers and the Internet. There is no escape! There does not seem to be any way to stop or turn off the online Technojungle. It is here to stay. It has been imbued with a survival instinct of sorts. As we safari through the Technojungle, let us gather ideas to ensure that we humans always have the upper hand and remain in control. The Internet is often presented as the go to place to do almost anything, but how humanizing is that activity you are doing?

The Internet has become the backbone of life in the modern Technojungle. Without it, our lives would be quite different. It is here to stay and now that we know a little more about it, let’s have another word about computers.


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