The Internet, especially the underlying technology of the Internet, was built by governments. The first real “Internet” was funded by DARPA, the US military’s absolutely insane mad science division. Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World Wide Web, did that because CERN, the EU nuclear science arm, was paying him to invent it.
This is not something that Rupert Murdoch-owned bastion of capitalism, the Wall Street Journal, wants to hear, so it apparently decided to send one particular op-ed piece to the Fox News fact-checkers instead of their own respected professionals.
The results are… well… about what you’d expect. But this obscures a larger point about the Internet and corporations.
First, this editorial. Oh man, this editorial:
But full credit goes to the company where [Robert Taylor] worked after leaving ARPA: Xerox. It was at the Xerox PARC labs in Silicon Valley in the 1970s that the Ethernet was developed to link different computer networks. Researchers there also developed the first personal computer (the Xerox Alto) and the graphical user interface that still drives computer usage today.
As we noted, not even Xerox thinks it invented the Internet. In fact, the author of this piece, L. Gordon Crovitz, fails to make note of the rather important fact that Xerox developed all these amazing innovations that have defined consumer technology and then completely screwed up actually selling them as products.
People seem baffled by the profit motive and technology; technology makes money and therefore somebody, somewhere, is inventing all the technology, right?
Corporations would never have invented the Internet because at the time, there was no money in it. The entire reason the government was heavily funding computer network research at the time was that they were the only ones who gave a crap about networking computers together. Nobody else was really using it. You want to know where all the money in computer research was going in the private sector while the ARPANet was booting up? Ripping off the Atari 2600. In fact, computers at the time were themselves descended from the code-breaking machines developed during World War II and refined in government facilities during the Cold War.
If you want to get an idea of how shortsighted private enterprise is right now, just go on Kickstarter. You’ll find seas of iPhone cases and iPad stands.
It’s easy to forget that even twenty years ago, a ubiquitous and persistent computer network with terabytes of information was quite literally science fiction. In fact the very concept was first made popular in a novel written by William Gibson, Neuromancer… and he wrote it on a typewriter.
And not even the people who developed the Internet really foresaw just what the hell was going to happen. To them it was solving an annoying problem that scientists and government suits really wanted licked. How the hell were they supposed to know they were unleashing viral videos, Justin Bieber, and Twitter on the world?
In our political world it’s easy to forget that governments and corporations are each uniquely short-sighted in their own way. And each type of short-sightedness has its own effects on technology, very often unintended. DARPA thought faster computer networks would mean stopping the Russians faster during the Big Hot One. Instead they created the largest repository of pornography in human history.
Hey, that’s worth a few tax dollars.