A Hammer for Screws: The Transformation of the Internet Fortress and What Comes Next

People define technology

The Internet is a tool that has evolved to accommodate many purposes. When it was first designed, in the 60’s and 70’s, it was meant to keep the United States safe in case of a nuclear attack. As all lines of communication could be lost in such event, the Internet was designed to be resilient and stand as the final line of communication between different government entities. The Cold War was a major influence in its creation but by no means would it define the Internet as we know it today.

The design philosophy of the Internet has evolved considerably from its very first days.  In the 1988 article, “The Design Philosophy of the DARPA Internet Protocols”, by David Clark, we are introduced to the philosophy of its creators. Think of the internet as a fortress. The architects of this fortress had the following goals in mind, listed by priority:

1. Internet communication must continue despite loss of networks or gateways.

2. Internet must support multiple types of communications service.

3. Internet must accommodate a variety of networks.

4. Internet must permit distributed management of its resources.

5. Internet must be cost effective.

6. Internet must permit host attachment with a low level of effort.

7. Resources used must be accountable.

The defining aspect of this fortress is obviously military in nature, with survivability as its priority. Accountability is considered the last goal, as you can see from the list. In case of an attack the fortress will provide the defense the U.S needs in order to continue operating.

Then something happens. The Cold War draws to an end and all of a sudden the architects and builders are left with this humongous technological fortress that was never really used for its intended purpose. Many of these original creators could not have foreseen the magnitude their abandoned fortress would have on future generations. Luckily, a few big-minded people did.

The Internet entered the commercial/private sector and all of a sudden the list of goals was turned upside down. No longer was survivability a major concern. Accountability was the number one goal. The once mighty military fortress was stripped down of its secret and defensive barriers and re-modeled to look more like a welcoming shop, now open for business.

Now how did this all happen and what can we learn from this for what comes next? First of all, we need to realize one thing. War is also a business. Some of the inventions that result from wars are later on applied to the private sector. Just look at plastic, nuclear energy, and Jeeps after World War II. Many prominent scholars have argued that from conflicts and threats of war comes progress, and this is true in a sense. However, in no way should we advocate this as a required precursor for progress.

There is one thing that we cannot change. From conflict, big and small, arises the need to create a solution. Sharing video online was a difficult and lengthy process, hello YouTube. People wanted to know what their friends were up to with a click of a button, hello Facebook. These two examples demonstrate solutions to these conflicts. However, their creators could not have envisioned the plus 1 million uses that would evolve from their original creations. The YouTube and Facebook of today is very different from the one on day one.

So what can we learn from this? We will never be able to envision all the uses of our creations. Everything we do now can be highly scrutinized later, but don’t take that as a bad thing! See it as an opportunity to improve your product or service for others. Don’t restrict yourself! What you see and use as a hammer can be someone else’s screwdriver. That is the internet and what comes next.

(The list used in this post is the ownership of David Clark. Everything else written is my own work)

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