Widening web, Basic Computer Science

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The Widening Web

The idea, the whole world is agog now had accidental origins. Here is how it all began. In early 1969, the U.S. Defence department financed a network for doing civilian research called Arpanet. Experts figured out that it is safe to avoid a concentration of network between researchers for apparent reason: What happens if a nuclear attack wipes out the entire research data? The apprehension led to the move of linking different networks of computers so that libraries of information remain at diverse locations. Eventually, the idea was enlarged to encourage instant exchange of information and sharing of data between different institutions – research, defense and educational.

The primitive form of internet was earmarked by electronic mail (e-mail). It allows people to type messages from their PCs and have them electronically transmitted to recipients who can read, reply, delete, print, forward, or file them. The sender of e-mail can keep a copy in a computer file.

Communication became possible between these networks on a point-to-point basis. The idea gained so much currency that Arpanet became too big to sustain a network of military networks, educational networks, and scientific networks. The result: Milnet, NSNFNet and other ‘sites’ came up catering to the burgeoning information requirements of the elites (government) and intelligentsia (academia). The internet as we know it today had such obscure origins which received a fillip only in 1990.

The first international internet connection established in the U.K. and Norway in 1973 soon spread its web in France, Holland, Russia, Germany and most European countries. Even South-East Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea are evincing keen interest to join the new communication craze. But it sure should surprise us that China and most of Africa are on the web.

As more and more countries join the bandwagon of infobahn, the internet world will become divided into the I-net haves and have-nots. And the sooner the countries latch on to this new communication engine, the smoother will be the road ahead to prosperity. Despite the widening web of the internet, about half of all registered internet “hosts” are located in North America (Canada included). That just shows that the protagonist, the U.S. still holds the leading edge in the information superhighway. 

True, the nitty-gritties of internet still baffle many countries let alone convincing them. Take the Chinese for instance. The entire world knows that the Chinese always were paranoid about foreigners and tight-lipped about giving away information. Since information is the life-blood of an internet society, any draconian measure of the dragon-economy to restrict, censor or infiltrate the conduits of info-exchange dampens the purpose behind internet’s rise.

Then come other concerns – pornography and terrorist activities. Reams of paper have already been written over the ability of internet to generate germs of a creepy kind. It  is now a fact that less than one percent of the web sites being visited are anything about sex and violence. While the case of pornographic proliferation has been remarkably tackled by passing strict enforcements and laws against the offenders and creating passwords which prevent children and impressionable youth from surfing by the wayside, a lot is being debated about the way governments should tackle the spread of terrorist activities. The downside of any move to curb terrorism is that internet may be prone to intervention, regulation and censorship by the government – anathemas to the laissez-faire of internet.

Then come the security concerns of the internet’s new club of users – businessmen. Internets often find themselves subject to interception by hackers and cyberthieves who steal the credit card numbers and valued personal data for profit. Of course there are solutions, encryption or the art of camouflaging packets of data and information-in-transit.

Little wonder, the idea of internet like any great idea in the history of mankind has been so innocuous but the proliferation and germination of its derivative users has spawned a lot of doubts, delusions and distortions about its malefic nature. But then, if a phenomenon does not have a flip side, as it is often said, it ceases to be a phenomenon. At least, Bill Gates is convinced about the omnipotence of internet: “The surging popularity of the internet is the most important single development in the computer industry since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981... Like the PC, the internet is a tidal wave. It will wash over the computer industry and many others, drowning those who do not learn to swim in its waves.”

And to take the point further, internet has already been recognized as a great equalizer between the world’s richest and the poorest countries. If you are not on net, you are out of the race. Says Gates: “It is going to change societies and the relations between societies. Developing nations including China and India stand to gain a great deal, because they will be able to draw on the world’s talent and knowledge while making the intellectual resources of their own people available to markets around the globe.”

The global statistics are heartwarming: the electronic billboards (“web sites”) are doubling every 53 days, 50 million PC users are linked by internet and around 1.5 million PCs are being planted every month. With such whopping changes transforming the way everything is being done, will India up the ante on internet.


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