The Olden Days of the Internet (Hafner and Lyon)

Hafner, Katie, and Matthew Lyon. Where Wizards Stay up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Print.

At the guidance of my dissertation chair, I put this one on my reading list; it sits in an odd place there of net history and technical (communication) history. Both of which I like, and speak to some of the other ‘effects of the internet’ issues I’m interested in as they tie to composition, new media, and tech comm. Tangentially. So limited notes here.

Briefly, this is an engaging (if utopian) narrative (rather than scholarly) history of the Internet, specifically the development of ARPA and the ARPANET, the role of BNN (computer company that was the “center of gravity” of many of the scientists and engineers who developed the first computer networks) and the centerpiece technologies and models that changed computing from something done in single rooms or (sometimes) single buildings to something done… everywhere. A few of these centerpiece technologies and models include:

  • IMP interface computers
  • host-to-host protocol
  • distributed networking
  • packet-switching
  • electronic mail
  • FTP
  • TCP/IP

Hafner and Lyon repeatedly show through their history that the Internet was founded on values like openness and sharing, on collaboration instead of ego, and a certain level of noncomformism (undermining both the corporate protectionism of AT&T and the net’s status as a primarily military and academic work mechanism). Of course, the history also offers a more subtextual narrative, of closed circles of expertise, user-hostile environments, and a world that seemingly existed without women other than the ones that prepared dinner for or gave birth to the children of the otherwise free-agent male programmers and researchers. I see some interesting conections to another tech comm history I”ve read in the last year, Johnson’s The Language of Work (which is a more scholarly and TC-oriented text than Wizards).


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