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Connections: I’net history

In a sequence reminiscent of Burke’s Connections TV series, ARS presents a selection from Johnny Ryan’s A History of the Internet and the Digital Future.

The connections involve the post WW II attitude towards innovation and development of new ideas for national security, the concepts of digital communications, and the cold war and MAD concepts. The paradigm shift involved seeing communications change from a point to point connected analog stream to a series of information packets propagating through some defined space defining their own paths independently as they go.

A key tenet of MAD was that the fear of retaliation would prevent either Cold War party from launching a first strike. This logic failed if a retaliatory strike was impossible because one’s communications infrastructure was disrupted by the enemy’s first strike. … improving the communications network across the United States was the key to averting war.

The section A Concept Born in the Shadow of the Nuke is an historical overview that makes one wonder if a lot of the fear based movements of the sixties were related to the actual real fears of cold war turning to nuclear destruction in the fifties. The Boomers learned fear in grade school. That was then projected to a fear of anything nuclear then anything human created then to a ‘safe’ world without evidence of humanity on it expressed as the green movement.

Baran came up with a solution that suggested radically changing the shape and nature of the national communications network. Conventional networks had command and control points at their center. Links extended from the center to the other points of contact in a hub-and-spoke design. In 1960 Baran began to argue that this was untenable in the age of ballistic missiles. The alternative he began to conceive of was a centrifugal distribution of control points: a distributed network that had no vulnerable central point and could rely on redundancy.

The story is not only of the invention and development of a new communications technology, it is in what happens when prevailing attitudes and technologies meet entirely new ways of solving their problems. It is about the sort of social structures that allow such innovation to happen.

This looks to be a book worth reading.

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