The Internet + Interactive Technologies


I wrote this essay as a university paper [1996] to explain in as simple a way as possible the key aspects relating to the technologies that have come together to create the entity that we know of as the Internet.

From any point of reference within this I am sure that you could spend many hours exploring the fascinating complexity and background issues - especially the implications of these technologies for our planet, and our own interconnected lives...

In the beginning

The information-super-highway is the term used that likens the joining of computers, with that of the construction of the massive highway systems in the U.S. in the 50's. The term suggests landscape and geography, a distance between points, and implies that you have to travel to get from one point to another.

One of the main aspects of this technology is that distance is eliminated.

With the internet it doesn't matter if the person you are contacting is next door, or thousands of kilometres away.

As the phrase suggests, information is the primary function of the information-super-highway, the 'real' use for the internet is not known, but merely suggested.

At present the internet is in it's infancy, and consists mainly of the internet, world wide web, and associated computer technology. The world-wide-web [www] is essentially the graphical face of the internet containing not only text, but images, streaming vision and sounds.

What the internet will become truly is anyone's guess, we can only suggest where the technology that is coming together is going to take us.

The internet refers to a group of computers connected together, which are capable of exchanging information, a term derived from Interconnected [Computer] Network.

Designed by the U.S. Defence Department in the 1960's during the "Cold War" to remain pervasive and operational in the event of partial destruction by nuclear attack, it has permutated into something that its original proponents could never have envisaged.

The 'net was originally structured as a series of super-computers with branches to each other, interconnected with a multiplicity of links.

Universities [in the U.S.] were later allowed access to the super-computers, with each campus in turn constructing telephone line based connections to other facilities in the region, in the process building their own complex networks.

Now with hundreds of millions of computer users throughout the world, the collection of interconnected networks is far to complicated to comprehend, and it is unlikely that a valid map of all the services will ever exist.

Nuts and Bolts

To understand why the direction of the internet will lead us is unclear it is necessary to understand a bit about the technology involved, and the current limitations of this technology - and its users.

The main components of the internet are personal computers [PC's], modems, servers, telecommunications providers. Each of these have their limitations, and each is undergoing continual and rapid development.

The PC is the primary interface between the users and the information that they seek.

Development of the PC over the last two decades has been a key part in establishing the internet and led to the idea of the 'information-super-highway'.

Personal computers today are relatively inexpensive and have the capability to process enormous amounts of information.

The earliest computers were developed in the mid-1940's and took up entire rooms, and used enormous amounts of electricity - but could only perform basic calculations, and could only store about 80 characters of information.

By the mid-1970's Intel, a leading microprocessor manufacturer had developed a microprocessor that cost around $300.00 and was 20 times faster, had a larger memory, was thousands of times more reliable and used the power of a light-bulb.

It was 1/30,000th of the size, and cost 1/10,000th as much.

In the 1990's a $2,000 personal computer is more powerful than a $10 million IBM main-frame computer of two decades ago.

This development is referred to as Moore's Law.

In 1965, Gordon Moore [who co-founded Intel] predicted, based upon previous developments that the capacity of computer-chips would double every 2 years.

This prediction has held true, and today with current technological trends the capacity of computer-chips roughly doubles every 18 months.

The second component that makes using the internet possible is the 'modem'.

Firstly it is necessary to understand that computers use a digital format to store information.

Any type of information can be converted into numbers using only zeros [0] and ones [1].

This is known as : The Binary Language of Computing.

Each 0 or 1 is called a 'bit'. An example of this is the capital-letter 'A', which by convention is represented as 65 [B would be 66, and so on]. On a computer this number is expressed in 'the 0 and 1 language' as :


To communicate on the internet users plug into the various networks through the telephone system, using 'modems' [modulator-demodulators].

Modems by converting these 0's and 1's into different tones [sounds] allow computers to connect over phone-lines.

When connecting on the internet the user decides what information they require and key in the information's address. To be able to do this the user requires a piece of software called a 'browser'.

This is effectively the interface of the internet and world-wide-web.

The 'browser' allows the user to key-in the address of the information. The browser then connects the user to the information source.

The information is stored on an appliance called a 'server'. The server is essentially a computer with an enormous capability to store information. Servers are scattered around the world, and are linked to the internet primarily by telephone-lines.

This is where things slow down.

That brings us to the other vital link in the highway ; telecommunications.

Most modems today [1996] can send or receive 28.8K+ [28,800 or more bits] of information per second. At present that equates to a page of text per second, and a low resolution picture would take about 10 seconds.

The present systems were designed primarily for voice transmission, then as technology progressed text could be sent.

For the highway, and already the internet these lines of communication are to slow to make full use of the capabilities of current computer technology. There is a limitation in the bandwidth of phonelines. Band width is the measure of the number of bits of information that can be moved through a circuit in a second.

The old phone systems were mainly copper-wire, which is being changed over to fibre-optic cable. While both mediums transmit at the same speed [the speed of light] the fibre-optic cable can carry many times the information.

This can be likened to driving at 80 kilometres per hour on a country lane, only one car can pass through a point at a time. Where as on a highway three or four cars can pass a point at one time - although in reality a fibre-optic cable would allow hundreds, even thousands more to pass.

The present communications technology, although evolving rapidly still needs to make a quantum leap to allow the many ideas that will make the 'highway' a reality.

The next step

Once the telecommunications systems have the capability to send and
receive high resolution moving images the 'highway' will rapidly evolve.

[The technology to enable video-telephone conversations will be able
to be used effectively, as well as numerous other applications].

Instead of going down to the local video-store and selecting a movie, you might be able to simply order it from your home and almost instantaneously be able to watch it.

The same with music, or any other form of entertainment.

People only a few decades ago thought that telephones and television were gimmicky items, to us in the West now they are almost essential means of communicating.

Today e-mail saves time in writing a letter, the time it takes for the other party to receive it, and also the cost. It wasn't that long ago that e-mail was in the same category as telephones or television, yet today it is one of the essential means of communicating with friends and colleagues around the world.

The world-wide-web, the graphical interface of the internet is also changing.

Only a few years ago very few sites existed, today there are thousands of sites that supply information that was only available by printed media or television. 

There is a vast multiverse of informational sites which give users information on what is going on in the world, or whatever goods and services they could possibly imagine!

Today computers are used in many applications, and new ones are constantly being found.

Who would have believed that almost all items that we use in every-day-life would employ some type of computer, let alone a whole new way of communicating.

It is possible to envisage that the internet will infiltrate our lives to such an extent that we will look back and think, like people did decades ago with regard to telephones and television, how did we ever live with out it.

Many 'internet-adventurers' begin by actively exploring their on-line-world;

where they see, experience, and can begin to comprehend the interconnected relationship of every-thing.


If you want it.

The North American military and educational systems created the "cold-war" icon that is the internet.

It is refreshing to view their legacy with tomorrow's eyes :

If peace continues to break out all over the world, it is not inconceivable
that we will one day remember these bureaucracies primarily for having
given birth to the internet and filling it with an unparalleled proportion
of the worlds knowledge, instead of their other efforts.

Today, however, the fast growing internet [world wide web] is still taking shape, expanding to cater for the needs and desires of an ever-increasing number of new users, and adapting to suit creative, informative, educational and commercial requirements.

This is new media. Join us on-line - the world awaits your contribution.

Where the highway will take us - [or where ever WE decide to take it] - is unsure, however we can be sure that we all have the opportunity to contribute to it's construction.

The future is now.

>* The Internet + World Wide Web

The "information super highway" is popularly misconceived as involving 12 lanes of oncoming freeway, with only a bicycle track heading back.

True, there is information by the truckload out there, but the "web" gives you control of the traffic, and the means to interact with the information so that you only get what you want.

More importantly, the web offers individuals a simple way of publishing themselves and the items that are important to them on a global basis; with a users' homepage just as accessible as the home-page for
Microsoft or Time Magazine.

A single software application coupled with a graphics application, plus some consultation with your internet-server-provider [I.S.P.] - and a desire to publish, is all that is needed to be a provider
of "content" [and creativity] on the internet [world wide web].

Internet users will continue to be overwhelmed with "content", making the NAVIGATION component of the web essential ; the web [internet] can also give us our lane on the budding "data-strada".

It is no secret that the world is heading towards component-based [as opposed to mono-lithic, all things to all people] software.

Since 1995 the internet has been made more accessible and reliable.

However, this is only the beginning : many great "applications" for this technology are waiting to be invented, and the current swell of users being attracted by todays friendlier tools will only serve
to increase the mass of content and diversity and so provide cruelly - something for everyone!

>* Censorship

"The arts are the rain forests of society. They produce the oxygen of freedom, and they are the early warning system when freedom is in danger".  

"The real reason for censorship, whether it's the direct censorship of the state, or academia's censorship-by-dismissal :

The less you allow to be expressed, the more alone and cut off people feel.

When certain feelings are unexpressed in the culture, people think those feelings are bad or crazy, and so they trust their feelings less ;

hence they're more vulnerable to pressure from above".  

The underlying statement is that we must be "protected from ourselves".

It is the limits of our imagination that are on trial here - not the evils of technology.

No one is easier to control than a fearful, self-denying and self-censoring population.

A "Hitler" does not result from the ability of communities to network through technologies in a freeform manner.

He results from the monopolisation of technology and the instilling of fear and paranoia in a culture that must get its' information from a single source, rather than from one another.

Participation in the media makes this monopolisation impossible, but such participation is willfully self-denied by the fearful and guilty.

If we believe that the natural expression of a culture through its' media is nazi-terrorism, then we will deny ourselves the ability to self-express,

and we will precipitate [bring about] just such an outcome as was predicted/outlined by George Orwell in "1984", and George Lucas in"THX 1138"

This essay includes quotes from :

[a] Luke Oliver [freelance contributor - April 95 Edition Australian MacUser magazine]

[b] Bill Gates in his book 'The Road Ahead'.

[c] Douglas Rushkoff in his book "Children of Chaos'.

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