Okay. You have your hardware (laptop, tablet) and you have a subscription to some kind of task-accomplishing software that’s actually physically located hundreds or even thousands of miles away from you in a well-guarded high-security high-tech warehouse. How do you use it? The internet!

The internet is also called the World Wide Web, which explains the “www.” portion of all the “web addresses” or “internet addresses” that you “go to” in order to be productive. (Or to kill trolls. Your preference.)

On October 29, 1969, the first non-telephone, non-telegraph, non-postal service, non-carrier pigeon, strictly computer-to-computer communication from one geographic location to another was successfully completed. Of course, this happened out in California, and one of the geographic locations was the area south of San Francisco that we’ve come to know as Silicon Valley. And, also of course, immediately afterward, the system crashed. In fact, the first message was not even completed before the crash. The message was intended to be instructions to “login…” but only “lo” was successfully transmitted. It took about an hour for them to recover (during which they probably spent a whole lot of energy on that antique device known as the telephone) before they finally transmitted and received the full message.

The internet as we know it today wasn’t possible for nearly another quarter of a century. Although it started as a government-funded user-unfriendly tool for research, education, and whatever the government does, it has morphed into something so simple your preschooler can probably figure it out faster than you can. Forthwith is a list of notable contributos.

1972 Ray Tomlinson, graduate of both MIT and RPI who chose the @ symbol

1989 Students Peter Deutsch and Alan Emtage (McGill University, Montreal) who build the first searchable index of ftp sites

1989 CERN (Geneva (ish,) Switzerland) perfected hypertext – the underlined blue words that allow you to instantly click over to another internet site

1992 Delphi, the first national, commercial provider of subscription internet service for ordinary non-university, non-government users

1994 Michael Dertouzos (MIT) formed the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in an effort to essentially keep the internet organized and available to anyone, anywhere, by developing and promoting open standards rather than allowing it be co-opted as tool for any particular person, organization, government, or conglomerate

1995 The end of the National Science Foundation’s sponsorship of the internet went largely unnoticed

Curiously, at one point, half the internet traffic from the USA into Canada was directly accessing McGill University’s archive tool, nicknamed Archie. Disquieted at the thought the university was effectively bankrolling so much action, they disallowed access from non-MU users. Thankfully, other “Archies” had already been started.

Bottom line, the internet is how you connect from your hardware to someone else’s hardware. You can’t say it’s the wires or cables, (or “what goes on inside the wires/cables”) because we have many wire-free devices. The idea of a “spiderweb” is useful, as long as you can accept that the web isn’t restricted to an x-y axis. Maybe stick in a z axis of sorts, and take out the 90 degree angles. In English? The spiderweb doesn’t just go up-down and left-right, but also toward you and away from you, as well as shooting off on all sorts of other imaginary directions.

And it changes all the time. Every stinking nano-second.