“I had a home computer, with slow as a wet week dial-up internet”

“I had a home computer, with slow as a wet week dial-up internet,” Tim Foster said, “which would take about five minutes alone to connect.” This was my Dad’s response when I asked what his first experience with the internet was. He first got internet in the early 90’s and said that while there was a fair bit of accessible information, it was painfully slow to download anything. He mainly used it for emailing.

The general opinion at the time, he thought, was that the internet was the future of communication. You were either on board or left behind, and to not have internet meant that you were in the dark. In today’s society, Tim believes that the internet has now become a part of everyday life. “If you wanted to buy something you had to resort to the yellow pages, you’d make dozens of calls to find the store with the best price,” he said, “Nowadays, you can do a simple google search and you can find whatever you want from around the world, in seconds.”

But time has moved on, and so has my Dad. In the house, Tim uses three devices to access the internet, his desktop computer, tablet, and his mobile phone. Data plans? ADSL through a hardwired modem for the desktop computer and Wi-Fi, a Telstra dongle for wireless internet, and two mobile data packages.

In terms of interaction, Tim says he swears at the internet, a lot. But that’s not his only interaction, he also uses the internet for other things, primarily checking and sending emails, searching for information, checking the weather, and shopping online. In general, Tim believes the internet has made the world a smaller place, which in his eyes, is a good thing, because it opens the world to lots of communities, especially in countries that have manipulated media broadcasts such as North Korea where the dictatorship reigns supreme.

When our conversation turned towards the NBN, Tim could only express his frustrations. Due to living in a remote area and being too far from the trunk line and phone exchange, it looks unlikely that our house will be able to access this privilege. “Unless they run a line between Berry and Shoalhaven Heads, we’ll never get it,” he said. But all things considered, Tim is quite happy with the internet he currently enjoys.

Image by Steve Rhodes

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The Viral Infection known as the Internet

Hello DIGC202 fellows and any others who should find this blog. During this week in DIGC202, Global Networks, we examined the evolution of the world’s nervous system thanks to the advent of electricity and the telegraph. With the arrival of Samuel Morse’s dot dash style telegraph in 1838, an easier system to use than the more complex telegraph created in 1837, a need for mass wiring arose (Mitew 2014a). This resulted in the first undersea cable across the English Channel linking Great Britain and America in 1851 and the laying of the more successful trans-Atlantic cable in 1866 than its faulty 1858 counterpart (Mitew 2014a).

However, this technology was expensive and as such, preserved for the elite who could afford to send messages across the divide. But, this would all change with the arrival of the radio telegraph in 1895, a much cheaper medium that allowed the masses to shoot messages across the world via telegraph offices (Mitew 2014b). Mitew (2014b; 2014c) explains that this technology brought forth the imperialistic notion of the world as a “…single body, wires and cables – its nerves.” What Mitew means is that the telegraph obliterated the notion of duration and distance that occurred at this time, bringing people around the globe together with a network of wires and cables that allowed people to communicate and obtain news about different events happening in countries other than their own, unifying the world.

Various other technologies later developed which helped unify the world even further, but the only one which closely mirrors the creation of the original global nervous system, the first global network, was the internet. What brought the internet into fruition was the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik 1, by the Soviet Union in 1957, which presented an issue for America as they wondered how a post-nuclear America would allow authorities to communicate (Sterling 1993, pg. 1). Paul Baran came to their rescue in 1964 with his idea of creating a network which should be assumed to be unreliable at times, be able to transcend its own unreliability, that all nodes in the network would be equal in status, and that each node would have the authority to originate, pass, and receive a message (Sterling 1993, pg. 1). In addition, these messages would be divided into packets at a specified node, each separately addressed, and then sent to a specific node via random routes (Sterling 1993, pg. 1). With this strategy, it didn’t matter whether some nodes were destroyed as the message would just take another route to its destination.

By 1969, Baran’s idea came to fruition with the formation of ARPANET, with four nodes linking four computers together (Sterling 1993, pg. 1). As technology advanced and computers got faster and cheaper, the masses began to gain access to ARPANET. Eventually ARPA’s original standard for communication, NCP (Network Control Protocol), was succeeded by TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol), a more sophisticated standard that converted messages into streams of packets at the originating node before reassembling them again once they had reached their destination (Sterling 1993, pg. 2). IP (Internet Protocol) sees that the packets are sent across multiple nodes across multiple networks with multiple standards e.g. Ethernet, FDDI etc. (Sterling 1993, pg. 2).

As TCP/IP became more common and access to more powerful computers was gained, people began to link their computers to a growing network of networks now known as the internet. Sterling (2013) describes this phenomena as the original, ARPANET, being superseded by its mutant child, the internet, making such a phenomena mirror the process of a parasite taking over its host. This viral infection known as the internet is not necessarily a bad or even inherently a bad thing, it is made bad by those who would abuse it. Such abuse comes into the fore when we consider the spread of media literacy.

Stadler (2005) looks at how the spread of media literacy has expanded the range of people able to consume media/cultural objects produced by industries and everyday people (pg. 14). With the advancement of digital technologies, the differentiation between cultural objects and cultural exchanges is shrinking (Stadler 2005, pg. 14-15). Cultural exchanges, once fluid, can now take on a form, although not always physical e.g. books, audio files, video files etc. which presents a problem for the authors and artists of today. Because these pieces of cultural exchange can take on the form of a cultural object that is also fluid, it is easier than ever for the “…processes of telling, re-telling, changing and transforming… (Stadler 2005, pg. 15)” to occur. This means that people are now equipped with the technology to exchange fluid cultural objects with each other, and more seriously, exchanging fluid cultural objects on an illegal basis such as copyrighted music files.

With the steady advancement of technology and the arrival of the infection known as the internet, it has become easier than ever to steal fluid cultural objects, such as music files, under the guise of exchange, and the truth is, there is not much we can do about it. Except, of course, believing in the inherent moral goodness of those around us not to download or give people access to copyrighted media.

References:

Mitew, T 2014a, A Global Nervous System: From the Telegraph to Cyberspace [Part 1], online video, 04 August, YouTube, viewed 6 August 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVoe9lZEBOk&index=2&list=PLiPp71qLKusXOU1bKxHVappCbRNN3-J-j

Mitew, T 2014b, A Global Nervous System: From the Telegraph to Cyberspace [Part 2], online video, 04 August, YouTube, viewed 6 August 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5oAlHZMgX8&index=3&list=PLiPp71qLKusXOU1bKxHVappCbRNN3-J-j

Mitew, T 2014c, A Global Nervous System: From the Telegraph to Cyberspace [Part 3], online video, 04 August, YouTube, viewed 6 August 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0-kqEicKaU&list=PLiPp71qLKusXOU1bKxHVappCbRNN3-J-j&index=4

Mitew, T 2014d, A Global Nervous System: From the Telegraph to Cyberspace [Part 4], online video, 04 August, YouTube, viewed 6 August 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAZru-SPuNI&list=PLiPp71qLKusXOU1bKxHVappCbRNN3-J-j&index=5

Stadler, F 2005, Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks, Futura publikacije, Novi Sad

Sterling, B 1993, A Short History of the Internet, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, viewed 07 August 2015

Taylor, E 2014, Internet and the World, image, Emily Taylor Internet Research, viewed 09 August 2015, http://www.emilytaylor.eu/internet-governance/