The message was meant to be "login". But the system crashed prematurely. The first ever message that was sent from one computer to another got truncated to only two letters – "lo".
That was exactly 50 years ago, on 29 October, 1969. The University of California, Los Angeles research team that was trying to send the message had no idea what this transfer of information would usher into.
Working on a US Department of Defense project, the ULCA team gave birth to internet, the biggest technological phenomenon in mankind – an invention whose impact is paralleled only by fire, wheel, electricity and combustion engine.
In the beginning, it wasn't called internet. It was a much closed network of computers called ARPANET. The internet that we know now was born a bit later through a series of phases that crossed its biggest threshold in 1983 when it got its Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol or TCP/IP – a language that enabled all kinds of different computers to have a uniform language to be able to communicate with each other.
The World Wide Web, an information system that enables us to have browsers and web sites, was invented in 1989.
Internet is the biggest driving force behind Digital Revolution, a technological shift that is analogous to Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution.
The invention of internet has changed the way we communicate, do business, interact individually and in large groups and the way we govern our large institutions like running a state. The internet has become so ubiquitous that the generations that are born after 2000 hardly can imagine a world without it.
In 1995 there were only 16 million internet users globally – less than 1% of the world's population. It has grown to 4.388 billion in January, 2019, which amounts to 57% of the global population.
In Bangladesh, as of January, 2019 the total number of internet subscribers was 91 million – more than half of the total population. Most of them got connected through mobile phones.
No other invention in the past was so pervading and so overpowering. Internet is making many granted things irrelevant or obsolete. One such thing is the postal delivery system. In an age of email, people write less and less paper mails and use the postal delivery system. Many post offices in Bangladesh had not a single mail delivered over days, a situation the department is trying to cope with by diverting and diversifying the service.
The total number of emails sent and received per day will exceed 293 billion in 2019. One estimate shows that there are 188 million emails generated per minute worldwide.
The internet is changing the way people get news and information. An estimate shows that around 40 percent readers in US get their news delivered through Facebook. In UK a national survey in 2018 showed that more than two thirds of individuals were either reading or downloading online news, newspapers or magazines.
The declining of readership in print media has sent a worldwide downward trend in business and revenue for news outlets, resulting a series of shutdowns. The United States has lost 60 daily newspapers since 2004. In late 2008 The Independent, a prominent newspaper in UK announced job cuts, and in 2016 The Independent shut down its print edition.
In Bangladesh newspapers, despite having a static circulation, started languishing because of the downward trend in revenue.
Internet has given birth to a new online sale of products named e-commerce. An estimate by UNCTAD in 2019 has put the global e-commerce sales at $29 trillion. The US retail e-commerce market is one of the largest in the world, accounting for 20% of global sales. In the US, 9% of retail sales in 2016 were made online, equating to US$451bn.
According to E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh the overall online business in 2018 has crossed Tk 10 billion in annual sales. There are around 2,000 e-commerce sites and 50,000 Facebook-based outlets delivering almost 30,000 products a day.
The biggest spin-off of internet is the rise of social media. Some say we live in an era of social media. There are 2.37 billion users in Facebook, more than newspaper readers and television viewers put together. Face book has deeper impact in our social life than anything that came before.
The rise of deep learning and artificial intelligence is driving internet in a direction very hard to foresee. However few can deny that in the coming days our lives will be controlled and governed more by algorithms than by the government, political parties or the academic institutions we are governed by.