In October of 1969, four leading U.S. universities—University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Stanford Research Institute (SRI), University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah—activated a project known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), creating the first successful network of computers in a time when computers barely interacted with their users, let alone one another. This historic connection provided the basis for the Internet as we know it today.
Over the nearly five decades since ARPANET’s debut, computer networking has evolved to a level beyond even the loftiest dreams of those who created it. The next time you shoot a quick email to a friend and send it winging through the electronic ether, consider this: The first message ever sent on a network consisted of just two letters. The message was meant to read, “LOGIN,” but the network only managed to transmit two letters before the whole system crashed. Not a very auspicious beginning for a system that would one day support 297 billion emails every single day.
Even the enormous amount of data created by email is but an eddy in the raging river of data that surges through the modern Internet. But it wasn’t always so. In 1984, when ARPANET was released from military control and began to merge with the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) to form what we now call “the Internet,” the cutting-edge hardware that carried its traffic pushed data at 56 Kilobytes(K) per second. That’s a speed best remembered as the fastest possible in the not-so-distant days before broadband Internet. By way of comparison, the average Internet access speed in the U.S. today is 7.6 Megabytes (MB) per second—roughly 136 times faster.
And Americans use every bit of that extra bandwidth. In just one minute on an average day, 700 videos, 28,000 Tumblr posts, 100,000 tweets and more than 34,000 Facebook “likes” hit the ‘net, and with total Internet traffic expected to quadruple by 2014, our “need for speed” is only likely to grow.
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