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Half a century of Arpanet, and we are just at the dawn of this new reality

Next Tuesday we will reach an amazing milestone, and for more than one reason. On October 29, 1969, at half past ten at night, Arpanet, the Internet predecessor, was launched. In the special edition for the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine of
THE NATION, whose first copy also appeared in 1969, published
an extensive article on the details of the emergence of Arpanet.

In short, at 22.30 on Wednesday, October 29, 1969, the student of the University of California at Los Angeles Charley Kline sent the first message via a network that had received the name of Arpanet. The receiver was a programmer named Bill Duvall of the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, about 500 kilometers northwest. Arpanet, born of the Fra War, had just woken up.

The Fra War is not an exaggeration. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite in history, Sputnik-1. Although it was a significant astronomical milestone, the most important thing about Sputnik was actually its launcher, the rocket that took it to the rite. It had been released two months before, it was called R-7 and it was the first successful intercontinental Baltic missile. In other words, Sputnik was sending a devastating message to the United States: the Soviets could drop atomic bombs on their territory whenever they wanted.

This caused, predictably, a national step that ended, among other things, with the creation of an advanced research project agency, ARPA, for its acronym in English. From there, the name of the first network that premiered a new concept in what we now call connectivity.

Arpanet switched packets, instead of switching lines, like the conventional telephone. The implementation of that concept will turn half a century on Tuesday. Amazing because the effects the Network had on civilization were revolutionary. And also because, despite the advances we have seen in these 50 years, we are still at the dawn of the digital revolution.

The galactic network

There is a substantial difference between Arpanet and the internet. Grosso mode, the first communicated computers (I repeat, gross mode), while the second connects networks. Simply put, when your computer or phone is linked to the service provider (today that connection is more or less constant, but it was not always that way), become part of that provider's network, which in turn is linked , through internet, to many other networks; for example, that of
THE NATION, and that is why you can see the site of the newspaper.

But both, Arpanet and the Internet, are based on a concept that is less technical than social, that of a worldwide network accessible to all. That idea was developed by Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider in 1962, a time when computers only appeared in science fiction movies and civilization was under the constant threat of a nuclear war that would have been devastating for all mankind; 1962 was the year of the missile crisis in Cuba, for example.

In practice, Arpanet was not born with the spirit that today has internet (for a number of reasons; in others, that in 1969 there are no small and economical computers), but that spirit precedes its birth and that is why Licklider is considered the father from all of this. Of course, the engineers who designed packet switching (Paul Baran, Donald Davies, Leonard Kleinrock), those who created the Internet protocols (Bob Kahn and Vinton Cerf) and a number of other people (students, also made a fundamental contribution. engineers, programmers) who created what we know today as the network of networks. Tim Berners-Lee, for example, creator of the web, or Ray Tomlinson, who conceived email. In fact, the list of people who created the internet can easily fill all pages of the Saturday SATURDAY supplement.

It happens, however, more than half a century later, that the idea of ​​a global network no longer sounds extravagant at all. It could even be said that there is a paradoxical effect. It is so present in our lives that we are not aware that, in effect, at least half of humanity is 24 hours a day connected to a global network. With the good and the bad that that brings.

The veterans of the Network will remember, however, that when the internet arrived at our homes, in the decade of '90 (in August 1995 it was Argentina's turn), not a few assured that it was a passing fad. They had the same opinion about personal computers, a decade ago. They were judged to be things of nerds, hackers or both. But Licklider was right. Before the Network, humanity was – it will say that literally – disconnected.

As we are far from perfect and as, besides, nothing guarantees that we will survive ourselves (I remember here again in 1962), being connected is not a panacea. But, in my opinion, it is better than being completely disconnected. Even if it's because now we're going to be able to get out of doubt. Are we able to hold a civilized planetary conversation? Are more those who get involved or those who look to the side? Do we want a better world or just want to be right? Online harassment, trolls and fake news are a pathologist? Or are they the norm? According to a Pew Research Center study, only 6% of adults in the United States produce 73% of tweets with political content. Why is this network so relevant? Do you have it? These are questions still to be answered and, in any case, the Internet (and accessible computers, without which the Network as Licklider wanted it will not be possible) is functioning as a catalyst for our best virtues and our worst defects.

For 50 more years

There is a striking parallelism between these technologies and the Gutenberg metal mobile printing press (yes, yes, it is not the first time I have said it). Half a century after the Bible in 42 lines, the world began to become dependent on the printed ones, which circulated with less and less control (although it was still centuries before the idea of ​​press freedom was not seen as inconceivable). However, it was no longer possible to go back. Nine million books had been published in those 50 years.

With the accessible count and the Internet is happening now, half a century after Arpanet, the same. Serial printing also exposed the best and worst of civilization, but was indispensable later for its progress. With 4200 million people connected and the economy of industrialized countries entirely dependent on the Network, this new reality puts us to the test, challenges us and changes everything. And as with books, it is time to accept that this transformation is just beginning and that it is so profound that it may take another half century to finish accepting it. If not much more.