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The History Of The Internet: A Family Man’s Guide to Its Surprisingly Epic Tale

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I couldn’t sleep at night. At times like this, I consider whether my kids and wife are sleeping soundly enough for me to take advantage of my free time (and sacrifice my energy of tomorrow) to have a little adventure in WoW. But now, for some reason, I stayed in bed and scrolled Reddit, where a picture of a newspaper article from the 2000s came across my face. Like many of you, I remember the dial-up internet, which now has a nostalgic beauty, was quite disturbing. The internet (and technology in general) has come a long way, my watch is now connected to the internet, but it was not at all clear to everyone that it would change the future of humanity and become an integral and inescapable part of our lives.

As a young (?) dad watching not only my kids but also (mostly) the internet grow up, I’ve come to appreciate the parallel journeys of both. Each stage of the internet’s evolution has its memorable moments, much like watching your children take their first steps or compose their first words. Here’s a fatherly stroll down the memory lane of the internet, complete with the digital keepsakes—those viral memes and pivotal events that marked each era.

The 1960s: When the Internet Was Just a Baby

Imagine the internet as a newborn, conceived in the cold bunkers of the Cold War. The U.S. Department of Defense, as an anxious new parent, developed ARPANET (the first network to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite successfully) to ensure communication could continue even after a nuclear attack. This project launched in 1969, was like the first uncertain words of a toddler. There were no memes back then, but if there were, they’d probably feature many atoms and mushroom clouds, reflecting the era’s obsession with atomic science.

the history of internet
The figure behind ARPANET was J.C.R. Licklider, whose vision for a global network of computers inspired the initial ARPANET concept.

The 1980s: The Awkward Adolescent Years

By the 80s, the internet was like a teenager discovering its identity. This is when the Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced, much like a kid picking out a high school nickname that would stick for life. It was also a time of academic and commercial expansion, with more and more entities getting online. This era’s viral moment was arguably the movie “WarGames” (1983), where a young Matthew Broderick accidentally hacks into military computers, introducing the public to the potential of networking.

The 1990s: The Internet Hits the Big Time

The 90s saw the internet heading off to college with the birth of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist at CERN, who created the World Wide Web in 1990. Though not part of the 1980s development, his work on creating a web of information that could be easily accessed and navigated using browsers would revolutionize how the internet was used. This period was like watching your kid become the class president—suddenly, the internet was everywhere. The first major meme of this time? The dancing baby, also known as “Baby Cha-Cha-Cha,” which became a pop culture sensation and showed the world how content could go “viral” online. This era also saw significant events like the launch of major services such as Yahoo! in 1994 and Amazon in 1995, forever changing how we communicate and shop.

Tim Berners-Lee in 1990

The 1980s were marked by the transition from ARPANET to more accessible networks. The National Science Foundation (NSF) played a pivotal role in creating NSFNET, which expanded the network beyond military and academic use to include more commercial and international connections.

During this time, the concept of a universal network that could connect various independent networks was solidified.

The 1990s witnessed the internet becoming more user-friendly and accessible to the general public:

  • Tim Berners-Lee again features prominently for inventing the first web browser, WorldWideWeb, later renamed Nexus, which made it easier for people to view web pages, link content, and navigate the burgeoning internet.
  • Marc Andreessen, as a young software engineer, led the development of Mosaic. This first widely-used web browser supported images and intuitive navigation at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA).

As the internet entered the mainstream, the late 1990s and early 2000s focused on enhancing usability and commercial potential. The internet’s infrastructure expanded dramatically, with private companies entering the fray:

  • ISPs (Internet Service Providers) grew in prominence, providing access to the Internet to the general population.
  • Search engines like Google, founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, started to organize the world’s information, making it easily accessible and helpful.

But before we go any further, I would like to share this nostalgic voice with you.

The Early 2000s: Dealing With Growing Pains

The Dotcom Bubble burst at the turn of the millennium was like the internet’s first big breakup—it was painful, but a lot was learned. This era’s memorable event was the crash itself, which saw countless businesses fail and market values plummet. The meme culture began to take shape with phenomena like “All Your Base Are Belong to Us,” a poorly translated video game phrase that swept across forums and websites, embedding itself in the lexicon of early internet humor.

The 2010s and Onward: The Internet Settles Down.

The 2010s were when the internet settled into family life, becoming ubiquitous in our homes and pockets. The Harlem Shake, planking, and the ubiquitous face of the “Success Kid” meme are just a few hallmarks of this era’s meme culture. These silly, often pointless activities somehow brought us all a little closer together, laughing through our screens. Significant events included the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, which changed how we share moments and see the world.

From its infancy as a military project to its integral role in our family lives today, the internet’s growth mirrors that of a child becoming an adult. It’s had its highs and lows, its laughs and lessons, and through it all, it’s become something we can’t imagine living without. Like our kids, it continues to evolve, and it’s exciting to think about what it will do next.

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Gyula Virag
Gyula Virag

Gyula is a developer and a passionate geek father with a deep love of online marketing and technology. He always seeks challenging adventures and opportunities to create something permanent in the digital world.

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