It’s hard to believe that this year is the 30th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s great invention, the World-Wide Web, and that much of the technology that enabled his creation is still less than 60 years old. Here’s a brief history of the Internet and the Web, and how we got to where we are today, in ten significant events.
#1: 1963 – Ted Nelson begins developing a model for creating and using linked content he calls hypertext and hypermedia. Hypertext is born.
#2: 1969 – The first message is sent over the ARPANET from computer science Professor Leonard Kleinrock’s laboratory at University of California, Los Angeles to the second network node at Stanford Research Institute. The Internet is born.
#3: 1969 – Charles Goldfarb, leading a small team at IBM, developed the first markup language, called Generalized Markup Language, or GML. Markup languages are born.
#4: 1989 – Tim Berners-Lee whilst working at CERN publishes his paper, Information Management: A Proposal. The World Wide Web (WWW) is born.
#5: 1993 – Mosaic, a graphical browser aiming to bring multimedia content to non-technical users (images and text on the same page) is invented by Marc Andreessen. The web browser is born.
#6: 1995 – Jeff Bezos launches Amazon “earth’s biggest bookstore” from a garage in Seattle. E-commerce is born.
#7: 1998 – The Google company is officially launched by Larry Page and Sergey Brin to market Google Search. Web search is born.
#8: 2003 – Facebook (then called FaceMash but changed to The Facebook a year later) is founded by Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommate and fellow Harvard University student Eduardo Saverin. Social media is born.
#9: 2007 – Steve Jobs launches the iPhone at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco. Mobile computing is born.
#10: 2018 – Tim Berners-Lee instigates act II of the web when he announces a new initiative called Solid, to reclaim the Web from corporations and return it to its democratic roots. The web is reborn?
I know there have been countless events that have enabled the development of our modern Information Age and you will no doubt think others should be included in preference to some of my suggestions. Also, I suspect that many people will not have heard of my last choice (unless you are a fairly hardcore computer type). The reason I have added this one is because I think/hope it will start to address what is becoming one of the existential threats of our age, namely how we survive in a world awash with data (our data) that is being mined and used without us knowing, much less understanding, the impact of such usage. Rather than living in an open society in which ideas and data are freely exchanged and used to everyones benefit we instead find ourselves in an age of surveillance capitalism which, according to this source, is defined as being:
…the manifestation of George Orwell’s prophesied Memory Hole combined with the constant surveillance, storage and analysis of our thoughts and actions, with such minute precision, and artificial intelligence algorithmic analysis, that our future thoughts and actions can be predicted, and manipulated, for the concentration of power and wealth of the very few.
In her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff provides a sweeping (and worrying) overview and history of the techniques that the large tech companies are using to spy on us in ways that even George Orwell would have found alarming. Not least because we have voluntarily given up all of this data about ourselves in exchange for what are sometimes the flimsiest of benefits. As Zuboff says:
Thanks to surveillance capitalism the resources for effective life that we seek in the digital realm now come encumbered with a new breed of menace. Under this new regime, the precise moment at which our needs are met is also the precise moment at which our lives are plundered for behavioural data, and all for the sake others gain.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web then gave it away so that all might benefit. Sadly some have benefited more than others, not just financially but also by knowing more about us than most of us would ever want or wish. I hope for all our sakes the work that Berners-Lee and his small group of supporters is doing make enough progress to reverse the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism before it is too late.