Review of Janet Abbate’s Inventing the Internet

10 October 2016

The Internet’s expansion has existed within an interworking web of innovators; government and military, computer scientists, graduate students, researchers, cable and phone companies, network users, etc. The details given by Abbate affirm the book’s claim that the Internet was not born of a single originating event. It, instead, progressed over time through the junction of advances in technology and needs in society. The Internet is an ever-adapting system, which is fresh and changing at escalating rates yet has a history that crosses over several decades.

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Born within paranoia surrounding the Cold War and growing through many different forms, the Internet’s history is laid out chronologically in Abbate’s six chapters. In this informative and methodical chronicle, Abbate tracks the important teamwork of the Internet’s creators and societal needs in a detailed and entertaining volume of history. Despite the revolution of the Internet bringing about doorways to assorted information, it has done a bizarrely deprived job of recording its own history. As the Internets’ creators get older, it is essential to capture their first hand accounts of the history they made.

In her book, Inventing the Internet, Abbate saves the early history of the Internet. The book is divided into six segments. The first segment relays White Heat and Cold War: The Origins and Meanings of Packet Switching that is primarily about packet switching. The second covers the political and technical challenges involved in Building the ARPANET: Challenges and Strategies, concerning the creation and struggles of ARPANET. The third segment covers user communities and their affect on the ARPANET in “The Most Neglected Element”: Users Transform the ARPANET.

The fourth considers the shift made, From ARPANET to Internet approaching defense and research. The fifth section covers The Internet in the Arena of International Standards. The final section, Popularizing the Internet, shows the beginning of the wide spread of the Internet but before Internet connectivity becomes popular at the personal level. All things considered, the book states the expansions in Internet history between 1959 and 1991, with some proceedings to 1994. The author’s study of the Internet’s genesis makes systematic links between the technological development and its organizational, social, and cultural environment.

There are many available histories on the Internet, in print and online. Most are well-documented information on technology and its history. Some mention the fundamental concepts of communication, information, and knowledge. Abbate’s work, however, goes beyond ordinary facts and her findings are most revealing. The beginning of the Internet is well known. It was a United States Defense research program named ARPANET. The internal structure of ARPA that reared the network development during its first years is not as well known.

Inventing the Internet explains how the little agency was created in 1958 to respond to the Soviets’ successful launch of the world’s first artificial satellite. ARPA did not own a laboratory. ARPA’s role was to create centers in universities through the financing of research projects in defense-related domains. When ARPA decided in 1969 to connect the supercomputers scattered among university campuses, it had no political or financial difficulty attracting the best computer scientists from all over the United States.

The originality of ARPANET is this basic freedom, in contrast to market laws and official control. Inventing the Internet highlights ARPA and its brilliance, which seems to violate both the hands-off approach and the state-intervention ideology. ARPANET was born in an atmosphere of total confidence within a community whose total purpose was to connect the computer equipment from as many universities as possible, while striking the least restricting of standards. Packet-switching technology was the tool hat seemed to execute the fewest constraints so ARPANET was based on packet switching instead of the circuit-switching technology that characterized all other telecommunications networks in the world. Along the way, users and other developers took computer networking in directions that ARPA did not intend. Users rapidly made e-mail the most successful network application. Other countries tested the Internet with varying protocols and applications. The community of scientists hard-pressed the National Science Foundation into action that overshadowed ARPA’s in the 1990s.

As new applications and pressures arose, the United States government moved toward privatization of the Internet in the 1990s. This development and the commercialization of personal computers helped build an advantageous atmosphere for the introduction of the hypertext system and web browsers. The World Wide Web turned out to be available even to beginners. Abbate argues successfully that the origins of the Internet “favored military values, such as survivability, flexibility, and high performance, over commercial goals, such as low cost, simplicity, or consumer appeal” (5).

On one good side of things, it was these features that offered computer networks their keen adaptability and quick reaction to the unexpected demands of users. Per the cons, suggests Abbate, they could have caused defiance of commercialization in the system as ARPA did not visualize charging individuals to use the system the way the phone company charges individual telephone users. Based on detailed research in primary documents and extensive communication with many of the principals in the story, Abbate’s history delivers the most detailed and revealing account.

She succeeds in showing that both its developers and its users socially constructed this evolving technology. How might one know where they’re going, if they don’t know where they have been? It’s someway comforting to learn that a technology that seems to be new and ever-evolving actually has a history crossing several decades. This history of the Internet, a technology that modern people use on a daily basis in various arrangements, is outlined so perceptively in Janet Abbate’s, Inventing the Internet.

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