"If you run an image search for the word “ARPANET,” you will find lots of maps
showing how the government research network expanded steadily across the
country throughout the late ’60s and early ’70s. I’m guessing that most people
reading or hearing about the ARPANET for the first time encounter one of these
Obviously, the maps are interesting—it’s hard to believe that there were once
so few networked computers that their locations could all be conveyed with what
is really pretty lo-fi cartography. (We’re talking 1960s overhead projector
diagrams here. You know the vibe.) But the problem with the maps, drawn as they
are with bold lines stretching across the continent, is that they reinforce the
idea that the ARPANET’s paramount achievement was connecting computers across
the vast distances of the United States for the first time.
Today, the internet is a lifeline that keeps us tethered to each other even as
an airborne virus has us all locked up indoors. So it’s easy to imagine that,
if the ARPANET was the first draft of the internet, then surely the world that
existed before it was entirely disconnected, since that’s where we’d be without
the internet today, right? The ARPANET must have been a big deal because it
connected people via computers when that hadn’t before been possible.
That view doesn’t get the history quite right. It also undersells what made the
ARPANET such a breakthrough."
Via Esther Schindler.
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*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics