Happy belated birthday WWW

Originally printed in the Batesville Daily Guard

As many of you have probably heard the World Wide Web turned 25 years in August and for something so young, it feels like it’s been around forever and it’s something that’s hard to picture society functioning without.


It all started with CERN, which is the English name of the European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN currently operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.


It wasn’t a very exciting beginning. The few visitors outside of the government, higher education and private tech spheres in August 1991 would be greeted by black text on a white background which stated “The WorldWideWeb (W3) is a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.”


There were several hyperlinks and a lot of text. But unlike what came before, it was easily navigable by people who weren’t technologically disposed.


What was the Internet like before the Web? Well, not very exciting. There were several of the building blocks we take for granted now in existence. Local area networks and wide-area networks existing since the 1950s. People had been capable of sharing files since the 1970s. The first online bulletin board came into existence in 1978. But they were not easily navigable and without the WWW there wasn’t the wide berth of connectivity we see now.


The creators of the World Wide Web used the concept of hypertext and had the goals to use the it to facilitate the sharing of information among researchers.


CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be free to anyone on April 30, 1993. This is what truly opened the floodgates. You can actually see a copy of the original first webpage at http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.


Those first visitors who all of a sudden had a gate to the rest of the world open up to them via their computers might not have realized they were also the first to see what would become one of the building blocks of our 2016 world, instant communication between anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Although it would be a few years before the World Wide Web really exploded into the public consciousness, sometime around the mid-90s, Hollywood did not waste anytime jumping on it with movies like “The Lawnmower Man,” “The Net” and “Hackers” — all of which wound up being way off the mark. Hollywood led us to believe that the ‘net would artificially increase intelligence, like Lawnmower Man, and that anyone with a dial-up connection could find their way to top secret government information if they were persistent enough.


But the reality was a bit different. Hollywood, nor the entertainment business in general, didn’t really seem to think about the impact the internet would have on them or how we conduct business, worldwide, in general.


After all, in the wake of the Napster debacle of the early 2000s, when the music companies found out they could make a buck off downloading music the music store died, probably never coming back. Although they weathered it a little better, the bookstore will never quite be the same … being on the most part elaborate coffee shops that sell books on the side.


Even the way we watch movies at home changed. Sure, we’ve been able to watch movies online since the 1990s, but who really wanted to spend the whole day downloading a likely-ill gotten feature length film which would probably have a low-quality picture and spotty as it played? When dial up was finally left largely in the dust in the mid-2000s, that’s when streaming movies finally took off. Of course, the movie rental business went under.


With the onset of smartphones and tablets within the last decade, we can connect with the rest of the world from almost anywhere, given that there’s a wifi connection or a cell tower near by (the latter can lead to huge phone bills though). Now we can enjoy music, movies, TV, radio or books from pretty much anywhere. We can also bank, make sure our homes are secure, shop for groceries and other daily necessities before we even leave work for the day.


But the most important legacy of that first WWW is probably making instant worldwide communication accessible to everyone. It’s changed the way families keep in touch, expanded our social circle beyond the local physical settings and, of course, changed the way many people meet their mate.


Think of it this way. Many of those couples who met on the internet in its early days, the 1990s, now have children who are at an age where they can marry and have children of their own. After all, 22 percent of people meet their partners online now, second only behind mutual friends at 24 percent, according to eHarmony Australia’s 2015 Relationship Study. That’s a big turnaround from the time when meeting people online was considered the domain of rejects and outcasts. Now, it looks like times have changed, and those nerds and outcasts might be the ones who inherit the earth.


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A little bit hillbilly, a little bit beatnik and a whole lot of nerd.

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Posted in Society, Technology

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