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Video clip synopsis – Trevor Barr provides a brief history of the inception and development of the Internet.
Year of production - 2005
Duration - 1min 28sec
Tags - ARPANet, design, emerging technologies, innovation, technology, technology and society, see all tags


Beginnings of the Internet

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About the Video Clip


This interview with Trevor Barr was recorded for the website From Wireless to Web, produced in 2005.

Trevor Barr is an author, professor and the Director of the Creative Industries Research & Applications Centre at the Queensland University of Technology. You can view his full biography at From Wireless to Web

The website is a selective history of broadcast media in Australia. Decade by decade, from radio and newsreels to TV and the internet, this history shows how the Australian broadcast media developed and shaped the way Australians see themselves.

From Wireless to Web is a Film Australia production in association with Roar Film.

Curriculum Focus


This Module can be used to achieve some of the outcomes of the NSW Information and Software Technology Years 7–10 syllabus; specifically the following outcomes:
5.4.1: A student analyses the effects of past, current and emerging information and software technologies on the individual and society.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


Communicating between devices is nothing new. The telegraph offered coded messaging from the 1840s, and telephones were introduced in the 1870s. Computer-to-computer communication was anticipated in the 1940s, when the first computers were built, but back then only science fiction dreamed of girdling the Earth with a network of computer links.

Cold War Challenges
In 1955 the United States government announced a grand plan to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite to map the surface of the Earth to take place in 1958, to coincide with the International Geophysical Year.
But the US agenda was gazumped on 4 October 1957. Russian scientists stole the limelight and launched the world’s first artificial satellite. Sputnik I took 98 minutes to orbit the Earth.
The bold Russian experiment kick-started the ‘race for space’ and raised the level of Cold War tension between the United States and the Soviet Union. Immediately, and very secretly, US political and military leaders set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) – (also known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA). It was ARPA’s mission to apply state-of-the-art technology to US defence and to avoid ever again being surprised by the technological advances of an ‘enemy’.

From the outset ARPA was interested in ‘communications’, including communications via direct links between its various computers.

In 1962 ARPA set up a computer research program under John Licklider, a scientist who had been a professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Licklider had just published a paper titled ‘On-Line Man Computer Communications’, and in memos he described a ‘Galactic Network’, a future of computers networked together and accessible to everyone.

In 1969 APRANet had its first test by connecting four computers (nodes) from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), University of California – Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. The first message sent on this network was between UCLA and SRI. Professor Leonard Kleinrock, who worked on the project at UCLA, describes what happened when the planned first message (login) was going to be typed:
“We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI
We typed the L and we asked on the phone,
Do you see the L? ‘Yes, we see the L,’ came the response.
We typed the O, and we asked, Do you see the O?
‘Yes, we see the O.’ Then we typed the G, and the system crashed… ”
(Sacramento Bee 1 May 1996. D1, qtd in Gromov)

This was a major event in the history of the internet. In time the system steadily grew and by December 1971, ARPANet had 23 host computers linked to each other.

Classroom Activities

  1. Discuss and research the meanings of the following terms: escalation, geostrategic, mainframe, modem, packet switching, protocol, synchronise.
  2. A communication protocol can be simply defined as the rules that govern how information is exchanged between devices on a data link. Compare this definition to how people communicate. Create a set of rules that would allow for clear communication between two people.
  3. Fire and theft can cause enormous damage and disruption to households and businesses alike. Outline procedures you would take to ensure the safety and security of electronic files held on site.
  4. ARPANET was an indirect result of the Cold War arms race. The communication protocols allowed for the synchronisation of data between nodes. Select, research and develop a multimedia presentation about one of the current synchronisation technologies used with mobile devices: ActiveSync (PC), Palm Desktop (Mac & PC), iSync (Mac). Use the following questions as the framework of your presentation:
    1. Name of the invention
    2. Name of the inventor
    3. Year of the invention
    4. The purpose of the invention
    5. Relative strengths and weaknesses of the device
    6. Factors influencing the designs
    7. Social impact of the device
    8. What (if anything) replaced this device?

Further Resources


Go to From Wireless to Web for more about the history of broadcast media in Australia.

JCR Licklider, Man-Computer Symbiosis March 1960

J Markoff, An Internet Pioneer Ponders the Next Revolution 20 December 1999