The Internet And Its Secrets
Who owns the Internet? How does it work? Where is it? What does it do? The single greatest tool created by humanity for betterment, or for worse. You must be at least familiar with its capabilities, history, and future.
Every day, we are bombarded with www.com's on billboards as we walk down the street, watching television, on the radio driving to work, and even magazines at the dentist’s office. There used to be a time where people used the Internet to escape the real world. Today, people tend to use the real world to escape the Internet. For good or bad, the Internet is simply everywhere. Personally, the most captivating concept behind it is that most people know how to use the Internet without actually understanding how it works. I must admit, this can be due to the high accessibility of this phenomenon. Without a doubt, it is now easier than ever to access the Internet, whether it is using your laptop, your phone, your tablet, or even your smart refrigerator. Because the Internet has become such a large part of our lives, a basic understanding should be ideal to use this revolutionizing tool most effectively. Some like to think of the Internet as this esoteric, far-fetched, and even dangerous concept only a few of us are meant to understand; when the mechanics behind it are rather simple. As the days go by, there is an increase in
Internet usage. But, what is this Internet thing people are going on? Who runs it? Where is it? Let’s explore this topic.
Moment of silence for ARPANET... Let’s continue.
The year is 1969: The Beatles, with Billy Preston, gave their final live performance on the roof of the Apple building, The Montreal Expos baseball team (now Toronto Blue Jays) made its debut, and American Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon and announced the immortal words "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". But, most importantly, the U.S. Department of Defense had a branch called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (or ARPA) developing numerous technologies that would become the foundation of the Internet. As Linfo.org illustrated, their goals were clear and attainable in their minds, which included: providing reliable communication even in the event of partial equipment or network failure, being able to connect to different types of computers and operating systems, and, finally, being a cooperative effort rather than a monopoly controlled by a single corporation. During the project’s early stages, a few computers in various universities and college campuses were connected to attempt communication and other functionalities between each other; This connection was referred to as ARPANET (an acronym for Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). On October 29 of 1969, the first message sent over the ARPANET was transmitted over leased telephone lines from a computer in the Department of Engineering at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) to a computer at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) at Stanford University. This eventful day would famously become “the birthday of the Internet”. The network expanded rapidly, connecting more and more computers, eventually leading to its public debut in 1972. In 1985, as this concept of networks gained traction, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded the establishment of national supercomputing centers at several universities and provided network access and network interconnectivity with the NSFNET project (clever name) in 1986. As improvements on this project furthered, NSFNET eventually became the Internet backbone for government agencies and universities and as expected, the ARPANET project was formally decommissioned in 1990.
The World Wide Web
While probably well-intentioned, the Internet and World Wide Web are often referred to as being the same and in some cases, used as synonyms. But, you’ll learn they are different concepts that work in sync for you. The World Wide Web (WWW), commonly known as The Web, is an information system where documents— commonly called web pages — and other web resources are easily identified by Uniform Resource Locators (or URLs), such as https://arielsnotes.com/, making them easier to be found. You may imagine the mess the Internet was in its primitive stages compared to how mature it is today. After a rigorous process, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 to solve the complexity of accessing the Internet. In simple terms, the Internet is an infrastructure of information and the World Wide Web is a tool to easily access this information. In other words, the World Wide Web has an endless number of sites, made of web pages, all of which are connected through the Internet. So, what does it mean when people “surf” the Internet? Internet Surfing as it is popularly known means to go from one page to another on the Internet, browsing for topics of interest. The original concept of Internet Surfing is the base of the World Wide Web. Interestingly enough, the World Wide Web serves as the primal attribute of websites yet Tim Bernes-Lee never patented his intellectual property; foregoing a massive amount of money. Instead, the World Wide Web became free to anyone who could make use of it.
How it Works
The Internet is a world-wide mechanism for information circulation and a medium for collaboration between individuals and organizations without limitations of geographic coordinates. But, how exactly does that connection occur? Drum roll, please. Cables! For most of us, the Internet is made of emails, blogs, Instagram posts, and youtube videos. But, it’s also a physical concept. We have been vigorously laying cables across our oceans for years to expand our worldwide connection. You may be puzzled by this but, sometimes, complex issues have simple solutions. Each cable simply consists of optical fiber wires with various layers of different materials to ensure protection from the environment. Essentially, Internet cables are laid down using specially-modified ships that carry the submarine cable on board and slowly lay it out on the seabed using sea plows that dig a trench for the cables to lay into. Eventually, natural water currents assist in making sure the cables are well buried. As you can imagine, this method is finicky and some cables are not completely buried; leaving them exposed to be tampered with by ships, submarines, natural disasters, and even wildlife. For instance, in 2008, there were three separate incidents of major damage to submarine optical communication cables around the world. This phenomenon became known as the “2008 Submarine Cable Disruption”. The first incident caused damage involving up to five high-speed Internet submarine communication cables in the Mediterranean Sea, causing Internet disruptions and slowdowns for users in the Middle East and India. Please note these cables are not abandoned as constant repair missions are carried out to ensure the cables are in great condition. These repair missions help you read this blog from across the globe while sharks are possibly chewing on some wires that could disrupt our connection right now. Seriously though. In 2014, a video of a shark biting an Internet cable went viral which led to the Internet Protection Committee releasing a report titled “Sharks are not the nemesis of the Internet—ICPC Findings”. On the bright side, the Internet does not solely rely on cables. Today we have various ways to transmit data such as satellites orbiting the earth. For instance, Elon Musk is using Starlink, a division of SpaceX (an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company), to create a constellation of satellites to provide possible free Internet access worldwide. The constellation will consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit, working in combination with ground transceivers.
The Owner of the Internet
According to Statista, globally the number of Internet users increased from roughly 400 million in 2000 to over 4.6 billion in 2020. After seeing these astronomical numbers, you may ask “who owns the Internet?” and, you’ll probably be satisfied to know the answer is technically “everyone and no one”. The Internet is decentralized and it's a system of voluntarily interconnected networks. No government, business entity, or person controls the Internet. However, there are sections of the Internet infrastructure that some people and governments do have control over. For instance, governments do have the ability to manage who can access the Internet with laws and regulations on Internet Service Providers. This is evident in some countries across the world as their citizens may be banned or have limited access to various applications available. On the bright side, some governments have decided to assist in allowing the Internet to take its course. For instance, the Domain Name System is the system that enables looking for web addresses instead of IP addresses— what allows you to come to Arielsnotes.com instead of an almost impossible to remember grouping of random numbers. This master registry of addresses is managed by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Since its introduction in 1998, this organization had been under the control of the US government until October of 2016; when ICANN became a fully “multi-stakeholder” non-profit that would consider the views of companies, experts, academics and, nations, in how the naming system of the web is carried out. As expected, numerous people were furious about the United States “handing over the Internet”. However, for good or bad, this crucial component of the Internet now belongs to everyone and no one.
There was a time, not too long ago, where many questioned the purpose of the Internet. Now, we can’t seem to function without it. The Internet has revolutionized our societies in ways we do not simply grasp. Let’s face it, a lot of us were born into it and it’s difficult to truly feel life without it. The capabilities of the Internet are endless as we understand adequate education is difficult to attain without Internet access, job applications are mostly online, and with a simple tweet, you can bring awareness to issues that could save millions of lives. Where is the Internet going? As you are reading this, experts are engulfing in research to further develop the Internet. As illustrated earlier, thin and fragile optical fibers are inside the cables that connect us to the Internet. Therefore, experts are developing ways to add more of those fiber wires inside the cables to accelerate data transfer and also improve their performance. In addition to improvements in our current system, there are more creative ways we are expanding our Internet access across cities. I’ve already mentioned Starlink’s satellites. But even closer to earth are Loon’s Internet Balloons. Loon (formerly known as Project Loon) is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to bring Internet connectivity to rural and remote communities worldwide. Loon is owned by Google and what they do is send balloons into the stratosphere to provide Internet Access to areas within range. What you have to imagine is a device engineered to give off a form of radio waves, powered by solar panels, attached to a humongous balloon allowing those end-users below it to send a precious email or text message; all while drifting through the wind across the globe. Besides, it’s worth mentioning Amazon has started Project Kuiper to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. The future of the Internet is bright. Literally. A technology called “Li-Fi” uses light waves from ordinary LED light bulbs to deliver internet connectivity that is cheaper, more secure, and much faster than broadband internet. The term Li-Fi was first introduced by Harald Haas, a German Professor of Mobile Communications at the University of Edinburgh, during a 2011 TEDGlobal talk in Edinburgh.
In conclusion, as much as we wish otherwise, you and I are probably not experts on the subject of the Internet. We know a bit more about how this Internet thing works. Based on what we know, the Internet is powerful as it roams free, available in countless forms under numerous moving parts. Most importantly, the advantages and disadvantages of this transcendent implementation will be directly dependent on the application of its end-user.
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Photo by Markus Spiskes from Unsplash