Future of the Internet
In 1969, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) inaugurated ARPANET, a small network of high-speed supercomputers designed to withstand military attack. The purpose of ARPANET was to enable researchers and scientists to share one another’s computer facilities by long distance for national research and development projects. However, writes author Bruce Sterling, “The main traffic on ARPANET was not long-distance computing. Instead, it was news and personal messages.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, ARPANET grew, accommodating many different types of computers, until it was incorporated in 1989 within the National Science Foundation’s own computer network, which became known as the Internet. According to Sterling, “Its users scarcely noticed, for ARPANET’s functions not only continued but steadily improved.” As the availability of personal computers increased, the Internet gradually progressed beyond the purview of military and research institutions into schools, libraries, and the business world.
The Internet has since become the world’s fastest-growing communications medium, surpassing fax machines and cellular telephones. What was once a network of four computers in December 1969 is now a vast amalgam of more than forty thousand computer networks accommodating more than fifty million users as of the beginning of 1997.
The development perhaps most responsible for the Internet’s astonishing growth was the creation and immediate popularity of the World Wide Web (also called the Web or WWW) in 1991. The Web is a collection of commercial, educational, and personal “Web sites” that contain electronic pages of text and graphics. Other popular features of the Internet include e-mail, an electronic system that now delivers more messages and files than the U.S. Postal Service; and MUDs and MOOs (multi-user dungeon and MUD object oriented, respectively), which are domains where users can chat and play games interactively.
Individuals can spend extraordinary amounts of time and money exploring the Internet. Some users “surf the Net” for as many as eighteen hours in one day, resulting in monthly telephone bills that exceed four hundred dollars. Extensive Internet use is often compared to chemical dependency and gambling and, like these disorders, has prompted the creation of self-help groups, such as Interneters Anonymous and Webaholics. The phenomenon of heavy Internet use inspired Tripod, an on-line membership company, to survey its users in June 1996. Responses from fifty members produced no consensus on whether inordinate Internet use is a serious problem. Respondent Doug Padgett confessed, “My ex-wife tells me she divorced me because I spent more time on the computer than on her!” However, another member maintained that “the Internet is definitely addictive, but it makes the real world a better experience.”
Many observers warn that heavy use of the Internet...