Today the Internet turns 30 years old. If you’re younger (and you probably are) raise a glass to your weird, omnipresent uncle. If you’re older, shake your fist and tell the Internet to get off your lawn.
It’s the Internet’s birthday, but, to be more exact, it is the anniversary of the day the TCP/IP protocol went live for the first time.
TCP/IP is the protocol that allows disparate networks to talk to one another. It is the essence of the Internet and its hip-swivelling Scrappy Doo nephew, the Web.
Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers of the Internet” explains how it happened on Google’s blog. Cerf has been the Internet company’s Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist since 2005. Cerf helped to found the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the organization in charge of administering the web’s domain names—joining its board in 1999 and serving as its chairman from 2000-2007.
From 1976 to 1982, Cerf worked as a program manager at the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In between creating sentient deathbots, DARPA, with the help of Cerf and others, created ARPANET, the first packet-switching network.
“Other kinds of packet switched networks were also pioneered by DARPA,” wrote Cerf. “including mobile packet radio and packet satellite, but there was a big problem. There was no common language. Each network had its own communications protocol using different conventions and formatting standards to send and receive packets, so there was no way to transmit anything between networks.”
In an attempt to deal with that problem, Cerf and Robert Kahn created a communication protocol designed to allow the different networks to speak to one another. They called it “Transmission Control Protocol” or TCP. In order to “better handle the transmission of real-time data, including voice,” they later split it into two parts, TCP and IP, or “Internet Protocol.” Ever since the two protocols have been known as TCP/IP.
“TCP/IP was tested across the three types of networks developed by DARPA, and eventually was anointed as their new standard,” continued Cerf. “In 1981, Jon Postel published a transition plan to migrate the 400 hosts of the ARPANET from the older NCP protocol to TCP/IP, including a deadline of January 1, 1983, after which point all hosts not switched would be cut off...
“(W)ith hindsight, it’s obvious it was a momentous occasion. On that day, the operational Internet was born. TCP/IP went on to be embraced as an international standard, and now underpins the entire Internet.”
In spite of the cancerous growth of trolls, the proliferation of apps of dubious utility, radically shortened attention spans, a multitude of online land grabs, the devolution of dates to two people checking their phones over vegan food, YouTube comments, Google Maps-related deaths and rickrolling (that’s a thing, right?), the Internet is still pretty neato.
If you are a reporter of a certain age, you can check news on the disposition of a valued college football coach, talk in real time with friends in Egypt and Kenya, listen to music both dusty with age and straight off the mixing board, accidentally text an acquaintance that you love watching them sleep, and do your work from a coffee shop on New Year’s Day.
The Internet is a fascination, and it’s all due to the sense of adventure and fascination, the lust for solving problems and for amplifying and extending human dreams, inherent in a handful of nerds three decades in the past.
Photo by Francisco Gonzalez/Flickr