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Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving, a day we traditionally give thanks for our blessings.  We might want to include giving thanks for the technological advances that have improved our lives, such as the internet. 

The internet has given us non-stop access to information, commercial opportunities, social media, and convenience. But how did all this come about?

Russia’s Cold War launch of Sputnik, coupled with America’s realization that the Russians had beaten us into space, resulted in the creation of U.S. scientific and technology programs.  The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was one of these programs.  It was established to develop communications technology that could withstand a nuclear attack capable of destroying our telephone network. 

The military was concerned that an attack by just one missile on the nation’s telephone system would incapacitate the entire system, with the result that communication would then be impossible. A system was needed that would allow world and U.S. government leaders to communicate even if the telephone system was to be destroyed.

Enter the ARPAnet, launched by ARPA in 1969. The ARPAnet was the precursor of our today’s internet. It was used by technologists, engineers, and scientists to transfer files between users. 

The ARPAnet provided the precursor technology to email. It allowed users to exchange communications through newsgroups.

A significant factor in its growth was the development in 1983 of “transmission control protocol/Internet Protocol,” called TCP/IP.  TCP/IP works by breaking up a message into packets. The packets are then routed through various parts of the network to the message’s destination. 

Significantly, if one part of the network is unavailable and as a result a packet cannot travel through that route, the packet is re-routed through another network pathway to its destination. Accordingly, TCP/IP resulted in a highly reliable communications network.

Another important phase was the development in 1991 of HTML, or hypertext markup language. HTML produced a user-friendly browser-based system that allowed users to click on links which link to other information. The development of HTML resulted in the internet’s transition from a network used by the scientific community into a worldwide web of information.

The last major stage in the internet’s development was the creation in 1993 at the University of Illinois of the Mosaic browser. Mosaic, which later became Netscape, allowed users to search and navigate the web. Internet usage exploded.  Email, social networking, privacy issues, online scams, spam, shady and X-rated sites, among other things, quickly became part of our daily reality. 

The internet has its issues and challenges, but nonetheless I am thankful both personally and professionally for its convenience. 

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