Yet, have you ever stopped and asked yourself "How did I get here?" I don't mean "I clicked on some stuff and this popped up but it looks boring so I'm going to read some demotivators for lols." I mean it in more of a "15 years ago this page would have taken several minutes to load (especially the pictures)" sort of way. Yet, here we are in a time where people actually start to complain if the page isn't completely loaded within two seconds of clicking the link that sent us there. Let me put this in perspective. When I was a senior in high school (2001 school year...yeah, I'm old), my father yelled at me for uploading a song to my crappy little website (the long gone SSJRigsby's Internet Roadhouse). He wasn't worried about copyright infringement, he was just pissed that a 3 meg song took over two hours to upload which tied up the phone line so he couldn't make any calls. I neglected to mention the fact that I had already uploaded two songs prior to that which had tied up the phone line for nearly 5 hours by the time I was caught >_>.
So, how did we reach this point? Why is it that I can stream long videos on YouTube in seconds when back in the day a 10 second clip meant sitting in my chair salivating for a good 20 minutes over the treat I was about to see (I was often looking up scenes from the Godzilla movies that weren't released in America at the time...y'know, that stuff that one does in their teenage years to distract themselves from their lack of a girlfriend)? Well, its because we've been bootstrapped.
Bootstrapping, not to be confused with good ol' Bill here.
Human form used since it looks less icky.Bootstrapping was an idea that came from Doug Engelbart. Although not the easiest thing to comprehend, its basically the idea of using technology for the sake of advancing technology. It may sound paradoxical, but just think about it. As I'm writing this blog and making all the links on it, all I have to do is highlight some text and then copy/paste a URL in and the link appears. Once upon a time I would have had to have known how to type in good old html to do that. Yet, someone had the idea to make a little button that does all of that junk for you. Nothing was wrong with it when you had to type in the html (unless you had carpal tunnel syndrome or something) but someone took the step to advance the advancement and now the way to make links is so easy that anyone can do it. Engelbart talks a lot about this "Collective IQ."
I don't think this is what he meant, though.
To me, that means that something is common knowledge, or more accurate, something anyone can do. By switching from having to type in html to just pressing a button, creating links progressed from being something a segment of people can do to something damn near anyone can do.
Here's a video of Engelbart talking on the subject.
On a side note, he's credited with inventing the mouse. Have you ever tried using a computer without a mouse? I have and it sucks.
One thing that is interesting to consider is how technology changes and is replaced over the years. Using any timeline of internet history, one can see how things occasionally got replaced. Think about it. We had silent film, then film with sound, then color, then tv, then color tv, then hdtv and so on. I actually had a black and white tv as a kid.
"How do you think they got the color out of it?" -Zaboo (fast-forward to the 3:10 mark)
We also didn't have remote controls for our tvs. In fact, my lazy ass father used to call me to the living room to change the channel for him because he didn't want to get up and walk a few steps to the tv. He denies this but he did it for years and it was quite often that I was actually in bed at the time and was woken up by his shouting. I was so happy when that damned tv broke and we got a new one that came with a remote. I actually got to sleep on a nightly basis.
Oops, way off track. Anyway, the point is that stuff gets replaced every few years. Face it, every two years you get excited that you can now get a new phone that does so much stuff your crappy old phone couldn't. Anyway, back in the '90s we used to joke that some day we'll tell our grandkids that we used something called "the internet" and they'll think it was so archaic. We knew that as awesome as it was to play the first Macromedia Shockwave (the origin of the current Adobe Flash) games that were actually all just effectively clones and skins of Space Invaders that there would come a day when all of that gets replaced. So, what would replace the internet as a whole? Well, some people have been trying to do that since the 1960's. Ted Nelson is a guy who never seemed happy with the way the internet was being built from its very groundwork decades ago. He'd much rather we all hop on board with Xanadu.
Although this one came 20 years later I guarantee you it's on his iPod.
Truth be told, I don't know much about Xanadu (hence I had to really stretch to make the previous lame joke). The information available is sketchy and just seems to say "We're better because we are" like a hipster who can't give a legitimate reason for being a vegetarian. The biggest problem with trying to replace the internet is that the replacement would have to do everything that the internet currently does and more. Since the internet is accelerating so fast, its replacement would have to accelerate much faster to overtake it. This, however, could be seen as a negative side effect of bootstrapping. If we launch forward and blaze ahead from an inferior starting point, we get stuck on that track. If Xanadu actually is a better base, the internet (or whatever it would have ended up being called) could theoretically be more advanced than it currently is. Some day Ted Nelson may appear through an opening he created in the multiverse just to give us other realities a big "I told you so."
So, that's what brought us to where we are now, but what brought those guys to where they were then? Sure, telecommunications could be traced back to the first time a caveman realized that if he raised his voice that cavemen farther away could actually hear him, but let's consider the roots of information acceleration.
Vannevar Bush, a man with a first name so ancient it sets off my spell check, is pretty much seen as the root of it all. He had the idea of taking all of the technologies available at the time and putting them together into a single machine that could do everything. Well, more specifically it was technologies that could be related to information. He even thought far enough ahead that it would have the shape of a desk so that it would take its volume into its consideration for efficiency's sake. The "memex" was proposed by him. It would contain data in its most efficient form (at the time would have been microfilm) so that massive amounts of data could be stored. Since everything takes up space, making things smaller naturally means more data can be stored in a given space. He also took into mind the idea of compatibility. One could easily take something from their memex and view it on someone else's. He didn't want us to have to be annoyed with the fact that Flash doesn't work on our damned iPhones. One of the biggest things about the memex was this idea of "trails" which would bring up similar ideas given a code written in a card catalog. Its basically like going to Google Images and typing "Kittens," but I doubt he thought we'd spend countless hours in front of our screens exclaiming how adorable kittens are. This is probably why Professor Lockman dismissed my suggestion of "kittens" the other day when looking for a picture because it could have completely derailed the rest of class.
Anyway, it all boiled down to this: Engelbart said "I'm going to take his idea and run with it......THAT'S GENIUS! We should all just keep running with each other's ideas!" Every time you get a broken link or a page that doesn't load, Nelson gets a little more smug. Basically, this is how we got here. This is how we got our tweets, status updates, videos of AKB48 on YouTube, and adorable, adorable little kittens at your fingertips...oh, and porn.
Vannevar Bush - As We May Think
Cameron Chapman - The History of the Internet in a Nutshell (Though I can't help but think he overlooked the inclusions of Ultima Online and Everquest as huge benchmarks in internet growth. Especially considering that MUD was on the list)
The Guild A comedy webseries about what I call "antisocial networking."