Alternate History of Computing

Armed and Dangerous » Blog Archive » World Without Web

The divergence point for this history is in 1983-1984, when the leadership of DARPA lied through its teeth to Congress about who was being allowed access to the Internet. The pretense being maintained was that only direct affiliates of government-sponsored, authorized research programs were being allowed on. DARPA knew very well this wasn’t true; they had a broader vision of where the Internet might lead, one that wouldn’t be realized for another ten years. They viewed the yeasty, chaotic culture of casual use by all manner of ‘randoms’ (unauthorized people including, at the time, me) as what would later be called a technology incubator – a vast Petri dish from which amazing serendipities would spring in due time.

This optimistic view was entirely correct. One such serendipity was the invention of the World Wide Web; another, though the causal connections take a bit more work to trace, was the emergence of open-source software as a conscious movement. But what if DARPA had been caught in that lie, funding for its network research scaled back, and a serious effort made to kick randoms off the early net?

This is an interesting claim, if only because the Web now seems like an inevitable expression of human nature.

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