The Internet Today +/- Money

I don’t usually gloat with exam or test results, but given the nature of the test I took a week or so ago and its result, I feel that it’s educational for anyone who is curious enough to read it. The test was part of the extra points assignment for the Internet History, Technology and Security course from Umich (University of Michigan), offered via Coursera. As it usually is, it was a peer graded assignment, a grading technique that I find controversial, due to its tendency of becoming overly subjective. Thus, my fear of getting a low grade on this essay, was not unfounded. Fortunately, this fear of mine was in vain, because as it turns out, I got an average grade of 10 (100%); this given by 5 separate people. This in turn makes me believe that the following essay is indeed a good one, worth sharing. Through this I would also like to encourage all my readers and not only, to go for online courses offered by Coursera, because it will give to every hard-working student a sense of achievement, and the amount of new information that is offered by these University courses is of insurmountable value.

Question: Write an essay that examines how money has influenced the path of innovation that led to the creation of one or more of the various elements used in today’s Internet. Draw from the course material and support with additional materials as necessary.

The Internet Today +/- Money

It is very often that people see every technological advancement as a direct result of proper funding, massive donations, in one word a big pile of money at the basis of everything we use today. The single greatest piece of technology, the internet is one of those. However, the truth regarding the advancement of this technology we today call the internet was shaped and developed in a much more interesting way.

While we cannot deny that the existence of money and massive funding by governments and armed forces was the spark that probably started it all, we also can’t deny that often the sheer lack of money pushed bright-minded and passionate people into taking the next step on their own, attempt the unattempted, try what big telephony companies and the government did not care to get their hands dirty with. We could say that monetary incentives pushed the internet itself in one way or another ahead but you’ll see that money also had a rather strange effect on various areas of technology that today make the internet.

As if often happens, technological advancement springs from wartime issues that need urgent solving so it is by no means a surprise that the internet, namely the end devices – the computers, – have a clear military origin. During wartime that’s where most of the money is, so if anything is going to be developed well and fast, it ought to be funded by the military. The Bombe or its predecessor the polish Bomba is clearly a good example of how a machine that practically represents the first computing device, was built, tested and refined in less than two years, in 1939 – 1940. If no one would have poured money into this, things might be very different today. So, we clearly have a situation in which pre-funding, in other words “we have a load of money we will give you if you make this machine”, resulted in – at the time – a mind-blowing experiment which proved to be a successful one.

However, 40 years later, in 1979 Jef Raskin and Steve Jobs have to face their problem very differently. This time it was a lack of money. As Steve states in his video [ ] he had no money for a computer because of its ridiculously high price, therefore the sheer lack of money pushed him and Jef to liberate some parts of the Hewlett Packards’ Atari and build the first Macintosh. He later on states that for building the first Mac circuit-boards he had to sell his van, and pour all that money into his dream-project. Not long after they get an order of 50 computers and has to order parts in value of over 10K on good faith and nothing else. This effectively means no external funding. The money from Steve’s van, a number of nice enough people to sell him parts on thin air, and a number of extremely passionate people with enough technical know-how to build what at that time was a state of the art computer. Again, as in Bombe’s case, it was out of necessity, but this time we see a huge technological advancement which later became a trend and a lifestyle built around the sheer lack of money, rather than the abundance of it. Ironically, since 1979 the Mac became the most expensive computer on the market – a controversial topic among many IT enthusiasts.

But let’s not stop here. Let’s see what happens when massive funding later on comes along and tries to push an infant technology into maturity by practically over-pumping it with money. In the US the internet was clearly something that had to make profit in order to survive or even thrive. Not very long after it was proven functional by NSFNet, companies such as AT&T helped by government funding started spreading massive amounts of fiber optic cables all over the country, a strategy that backfired forcing them to sell internet connection at a low price just to make use of all the cables in the ground. But having an instant boom of users on the internetwork hides a yet unknown and very much unpredicted collapse, preceded by another wave of funding mostly happening in Silicon Valley where websites and online projects start popping up like mushrooms after a rain. The internet became this great new place where you could potentially make money by writing a few lines of HTML. This was the so-called “ bubble”. Roughly 5 years after the internet’s official existence, in 2000 the bubble burst and the market crashes [ ] intensely affecting the Silicon Valley area, but not only. Too much too fast.

We can conclude so, that money did and still does push technology – in our case, internet technology and everything related to it – forward, but not necessarily its abundance. Steve had no money when he made the first Mac, nor did Bill gates when he started Microsoft in his garage. Mark Zuckerberg wrote Facebook in a dorm-room at Harvard. All these people and many more did things out of pure passion which later on resulted in some form of funding. However, overfunding proves to be dangerous and takes not only passion but also scientific sanity out of the equation.


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