From The Pentagon To Monty Python: The Internet Turns 40

Tomorrow is the internet’s fortieth birthday. Its creators are even throwing it a birthday party at the University of California, Los Angeles, the origin of the first message ever transmitted over what we know today as “the internet,” on October 29, 1969. If you’re wondering what the first message ever transmitted was — the digital age’s “Come here, Watson,” statement, as it were — it consisted of two letters: “LO.” It was actually supposed to be “LOG,” as in “LOG IN,” but the receiving computer crashed after receiving just the first two letters — not a very auspicious beginning, it must be admitted. Still, for poetic reasons, “LO” seems pretty apt: “Lo! The Internet was created!”The project, the first linkage of two computers over a distance, was paid for by the Pentagon. Specifically, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. This was a Cold War agency created out of fear — the fear that the Russians were ahead of us technologically. This fear was not unfounded at the time, since DARPA was a hasty response to the Russians launching the first man-made satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Americans could tune in their ham radios to a little “beep…beep…beep…” signal that crossed over our skies, and thus know that the Russians had done something we hadn’t managed to do yet — which was not only downright ominous in those days, but also downright inconceivable to many Americans. This was the dawn of the “space race” between the two countries, which culminated with the landing on the moon in 1969 of two Americans. But it also culminated in the same year with what was then called ARPANET.

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