25 Oct 2009


Forty years ago a student typed 'Lo' on a computer - and the Internet was born. Only academic researchers were supposed to use it. It was hobbyists who opened the Internet up to allcomers - Oliver Burkeman

To celebrate the internet turning forty, the Guardian newspaper produced a special issue supplement which looked at it's history.


Six feet under, buried in the soft sand of a north Cornwall beach popular with surfers, is one of the most important tele-communications cables in the country - the £250 million Apollo North OALC-4 SPDA cable that provides physical internet connection between the UK and USA.

The 3,800 mile-ling cable was laid across the Atlantic seabed in 2003 and runs from the Cornish coast to Fire Island just off New York's Long Island. The last time you sent an e-mail, did a Google search, watched a YouTube clip or tweeted, there's a very good chance that some of that data travelled at the speed of light through this very location.

Leo Hickman.


"I believe it to be the trend that is going to have the greatest impact on the English language in the 21st century." - linguist, David Crystal once wrote of the internet.

The meanings of well known words (bookmark, surf, spam, web) have shifted dramatically, while our vocabularies have expanded to accommodate new ones. The lower case is in ascendance, @ has flourished, the full stop has been reinterpreted as the 'dot' and entire trends have been refreshed by the prefix 'Cyber'. Here are some of my favourite internet contributions to the language.

Friends - An accumulation of people you found on the internet.

;alskadjf - (Not one I have ever seen, let alone used) Used to fill space and waste time, often spotted on social networking sites.

404 - (Another one new to me) Error message when a file is not found; also suggests general cluelessness (I'm surprised I haven't seen this then).

ROFL - Rolling on the floor laughing, or LMAOROFL - Laugh my ass off rolling on the floor (Whatever happened to the simple LOL - laugh out loud?).

POKE - Touching someone via FaceBook. Annoying and excessively flirtatious, yes, but chaste and hygienic.

GOOGLEWHACKING - (What?) An attempt to 'defeat' Google by typing in two words and retrieving a single search result.

LURKER - Someone who visits forums and reads others' comments, but never leaves his/her own posts.

RICK-ROLLING - (Seriously?) Trick in which a posted link leads to a YouTube video of Rick
Astley's hit Never Gonna Give You Up.

MOUSE HAND/BLACKBERRY THUMB - Physical injury as a result of addiction (Just another name for Repetitive Strain Injury).

Laura Barton.

So to summarise.

PASS NOTES - No. 2,670, THE INTERNET.......

AGE? 40

APPEARANCE: Flat, rectangular: dimensions vary.

WHAT IS IT? An unquantifiable ocean of free-flowing data; a boundless, virtual universe that in many respects closely mirrors our own world, but with a lot more porn.

WHAT IS IT REALLY? A bunch of computers hooked together.

SO THE WEB IS 40 YEARS OLD! Wrong. The World Wide Web is only 20. The Internet is 40.

WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE? The internet is the software and hardware architecture that enables the world's computers to be connected. The web is an application that runs on the internet, a way of linking and accessing documents through a browser.

SO, WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED 40 YEARS AGO? Some boffins working for the US Department Of Defence's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) sent the first message over a link between two host computers.

AND THUS THE INTERNET WAS BORN? Not quite. The term 'internet' first appeared in 1974.

WHAT ABOUT E-MAIL THEN? IS E-MAIL THE INTERNET? Technically, e-mail predates the internet; it started in 1965 as a form of communication for computer users who were timesharing on the same mainframe (OK, now you've lost me, mainframe?).

SO WHEN YOU SAY THE INTERNET IS 40 ........ You don't really mean anything by that?
A fair point - it's just as likely that the internet as we will come to know it hasn't even been born yet.

And finally,


At 104, Ivy Bean may be the oldest person in Bradford, England. She is also, thanks to the internet, one of it's most famous residents. After 'maxing' out the friend capacity on FaceBook (with 5,000) Bean graduated to Twitter in 2008.

Sarah Phillip

PETTY WITTER SAYS: Unless otherwise stated all articles in this post are courtesy of various journalists writing in the Guardian. My own comments are highlighted in blue.


Dorte H said...

Great post! And amazing, that something we just take for granted is only twenty years old - and was only meant for academic research.

(M)ary said...

i remember being on a version of the internet back in 1992 when my geeky bf was into computers. totally didn't get the concept of what would be so good about sitting in front of a computer all evening, now that is all i ever do.

Sheila (bookjourney) said...

This is a fantastic post! Its hard to believe it is only 40. Love the abbreviations I use LOL all the time and try to always comment and not be a lurker :)

Nina said...

A big congrats to INTERNET. How the world would look so different if we couldn't communicate true the net. :) Great post.

Martha said...

Tweeting is a lot of responsibility it seems. Thanks for your comment on my son's haiku, I appreciate it.

Kissed by an Angel said...

Love this post!! What would we all do without the internet!!! Always comment - never be a lurker!!!

Kindest wishes and love

Kelly said...

What a fascinating, informative post!!

(I'm back.... sorta. Details pending.)

Jenners said...

I'm older than the Internet. Sigh.

This was a fun and informative post! I never knew exactly what poking was ... so thanks for that.