Apr 072016


It’s all a bit arbitrary, but today is one of several days that is tagged as the birth date of the internet (1969). Things were happening both before and after 1969 that led to the development of what we now think of as the internet. But this date is taken by many in the geek squad as significant. I could go into a lot of detail about this, but I realize that if I do many readers will immediately glaze over. So I won’t start dribbling on about packet switching, DNS, TCP/IP, HTTP, encryption, IP addressing . . .  blah, blah, blah. If you are interested, you already know about this stuff. If you are not, my attempt at a dissertation won’t help.

Here’s just a small bit. Traditional telephone lines connect one phone to another via wires that are dedicated to a single call at a time. So if you are in Chicago and you call aunt Mabel in Miami, your call goes along lines that for the duration of the call are dedicated to that one call. You can build a pretty complicated system that way, handling millions of calls at a time. But you can’t build something like the internet that way.  The internet connects millions of computers – potentially to each other – AT THE SAME TIME. For that to happen you need a system that is different from traditional phone lines.

On 7 April 1969 the first Request for Comment (RFC) document was drafted by an engineer on the Pentagon’s ARPAnet (Advanced Research Project Agency network) project, a precursor of the modern Internet. An RFC is basically a technical document asking for input on an idea. This RFC essentially asked “how do we build a network that allows multiple computers to be connected to one another at the same time?” The answers led to the development of ARPAnet, and eventually the internet. ARPAnet was originally for military purposes, but as it evolved, its use as a general system of mass communication was evident. So now we have the internet – which is still evolving.


Academics and the military used early forms of the internet before it went public. I was sending academic papers back and forth between colleagues by 1989, and I remember having to explain to people at the time what an e-mail address was. I had to dial into a mainframe, upload my mail (in basic ASCII) and send it off manually. To receive replies I had to reverse the process. I used an MS-DOS computer without WINDOWS. Old timers will grunt in sympathy at how clunky it all was. But I was in seventh heaven. Being able to trade my research with colleagues in other countries was a marvel. Prior to that I had to send typed papers in the mail, so that if I was lucky I could trade comments on an idea about twice a month. Even though it was a clunker, it was great for the times. I’m glad to have been part of it in what now seems like “early days,” even though we are only talking about 27 years ago.

I am painfully aware that the internet has changed communications dramatically in a very brief span of time, and that our culture has changed along with it in ways that are both good and bad. I love having the ability to communicate with friends and family around the world when I want to, but I despise sitting in a room with a bunch of people glued to their smart phones.  I also love the fact that I can write a post on Medieval France or 19th century Thailand, and within seconds conjure up numerous ideas for a recipe of the day.

Even though this is nominally a foodie blog, as I sometimes do I am not going to give you a recipe today.  If you are reading this, you have access to the internet. Search for yourself. You’ll not only find any kind of recipe that you want from around the globe, you’ll also be able to find any ingredient you want, no matter how exotic, and mail order it to be delivered to your door. Me? I’m an old curmudgeon. I’m off to the market to see what is fresh, and talk to people, person to person, in the process.