Going out and getting yourself “hammered” on your birthday is all too often seen as rite of passage for those who haven’t quite grown up yet. So, in celebrating its relative youth – the world wide web was 25 years old this week – why hasn’t more been made of the occasion?
Apart from a few clippings in some national newspapers (see links below for two I’ve appreciated reading) it seems this milestone age has attracted a surprising lack of interest. Surprising insofar as the proliferation of the web has touched lives and shaped lifestyles across the globe in what is a relatively short space of time.
A billion hours ago, modern homo sapiens emerged
A billion minutes ago, Christianity began
A billion seconds ago, the IBM PC was released
A billion Google searches ago … was this morning
Hal R. Varian, Chief Economist at Google
The debt we owe for the web cannot be over-stated. It was the step change innovation which heralded the so-called Information Age and its beginnings is well documented. Take for example Castells, (2000, pp. 45-51) on the creation of the Internet, which records:
“The invention of the world wide web took place in Europe in 1990, at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” (CERN) in Geneva, one of the leading physics research centres in the world. It was invented by a group of researchers at CERN led by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau. They built their research not on the ARPANET tradition, but on the contribution of the hackers’ culture of the 1970’s.”
It goes on to explain:
“The CERN team created a format for hypertext documents that they names hypertext mark-up language (HTML), designed in the Internet tradition of flexibility, so that computers could adapt their specific languages within this shared format, adding this formatting on top of the TCP/IP protocol. They also set up a hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) to guide communication between web browsers and web servers, and they created a standard address format, the uniform resource locator (URL) which combines information on the application protocol and on the computer address holding the requested information.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward again 25 years, to the present day, and the digital economy is an everyday reality for pretty much all of us.
But it may yet get hammered in its 25th birthday.
Cyber security is top of the agenda in board rooms across the UK and beyond. Hacking, spying, privacy intrusion [Edward Snowden] and much darker uses threaten to divert the web away from all it was intended to be, now and in the years to come..
Nevertheless, Berners-Lee continues to fly the flag encouraging like-minded people to join him in the campaign called webat25.org (Twitter hashtag #web25 ) towards assuring not only his unquestionable legacy but the use of the internet for the 25 years to come, which looks a lot less clear cut.
Where do you think the world wide web is heading over the next 25 years ?
Castells, M. (2000) The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Vol 1 The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd edn. Oxford, Blackwell.
Curtis, S. (2014) ‘World Wide Web at 25: the next 25 years’ The Telegraph. 12 March. [Online]. Available at <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/10666001/World-Wide-Web-at-25-the-next-25-years.html> [accessed 12 March 2014].
Owen, J. (2014) ’25 years of the World Wide Web: Tim Berners-Lee explains how it all began’ The Independent. 12 March. [Online] Available at <http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/25-years-of-the-world-wide-web-the-inventor-of-the-web-tim-bernerslee-explains-how-it-all-began-9185040.html> [accessed 12 March 2014].
Varian, H. R (2013) Beyond Big Data. [Conference paper for NABE Annual Meeting, San Francisco, 10 September].