30th Aug 2016

25 Years of the World Wide Web – what came before that; and what’s next?

25 Years since Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, created linked pages transmitted using the internet for the transmission of data.

Not 25 years since the Internet was created – that was originally a US military creation, originally Arpanet, to create a means of communication which was dispersed in a way which could not be disrupted;  and the was JANet,  the academic network. We even had Teletext, Prestel and other telecoms-based means of communication.  We could book a holiday without a brochure!

Each revolution builds on another, and of course without the internet, as the infrastructure, there could be not a world wide web (most people don’t understand that the two things are not the same). Without the phone system, there would have been be no internet.  Without the telegraph, there would be no phone system.  Before that, without the railway system, the world was barely connected in terms we understand.   The railway system created a need for clocks to be synchronised – otherwise timetables didn’t work. It was enough for people to be on roughly the same time – yet navigational, horological and engineering equipment, whatever we think of current technology, could be of an extraordinarily high quality.

And in a way, that’s the thing.   There are those visionary souls who see what we have and think that we could have something radically different. But as has been said, before the invention of the motor car, most people wanted, as an improvement on horse – faster horses.

As well as being a student of the digital world and of law, I’m also a student of history – that’s where I gained my degrees.  It took 42 days for a Roman legion to march from Rome to Cologne.  No-one expected it to be quicker; and yet a mighty empire, with determined enemies, held together for centuries. A famous medieval rabbi, known as Maimonides, was sought out for advice by the Jewish communities of Yemen to resolve questions of theology and practice. He was based in Cordova, in Span; and later in Cairo.   They would write a letter. A messenger would be sent with it, seeking him out. It would take many weeks, or months, to get a reply.  In the meantime – they would get on with their lives. 

We, though  – we get frustrated when the person who we need to give us an answer to a question doesn’t reply within 30 minutes – whether they are upstairs, in the next city, or San Francisco.  Tim Peake was tweeting from the International Space Station.  A lander, Philae,  tweeted to us from the surface of Comet 67P.  We get frustrated when we cannot find out some arcane piece of information on the web within a split second, the information being located on a server – who knows where? It doesn’t matter where.

And this is now, as opposed to 20, 25 years ago – not the twelfth century.   Thirty years ago – perhaps less – we were amazed that fax machines means we could transmit a letter immediately. They too changed our lives. 

Social media and messaging have changed our lives, as incremental – albeit speedily incremental add ons - to the development of the world wide web.  Our PCs have morphed into the mobile devices which the whole world seems to spend its time locked onto.

I remember when we first got video machines, and they would wind back and forth – I thought that it was clever, but it was rudimentary.   Are people walking around, holding fragile devices with breakable screens and limited  battery life, something similar?  Our travelling round with cables and plugs are like the clever but rudimentary VHS tapes.

For now, the handheld devices are the personal  endpoints of the network. How long before we humans are the network?   We might be worrying about the hacking of devices, or the creation of thingbots out of the Internet of Things; when we ourselves are the network, it’ll be our human selves who are vulnerable to hacking, takeover and control.

Sleep well …

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