When Wideband Was 50 kbit/s

For months I am trying to get through an amazing book ‘The Dream Machine’, a biography of computing pioneer J. C. R. Licklider. The ‘problem’ with the book is that it is so packed with interesting stories about computing and networking from the 1950s to the 1980s, that there is hardly a page at which I don’t deviate to get some more background information. I am about halfway through and again got stuck when I started some background research on the early days of the Arpanet. This is when I stumbled over an incredibly interesting video I thought I should mention here.

The video is called ‘Computer Networks – The Heralds Of Resource Sharing‘ and is a 30 minute documentary about the state of the Arpanet ca. 1972. A lot of the people that where part of the project at the time such as ‘Lick’ himself, Bob Kahn, Larry Roberts and Fernando Corbató, appear in the documentary and explain their work. They talk a lot about packet switching, of which most people haven’t heard of at the time, and make a lot of predictions of how interconnecting computers will change the world. What’s amazing is that each one has become reality at some point over the next 40 years. It was also good to see that they included Donald Davies from the UK to document that there were also influences from other parts of the world.

Another thing that caught my eye was that quite a bit of technology was shown in the video. Remember it’s from 1972 and it’s quite evident that at this time, mechanical teletypes were still ‘state of the art’ as a means to interact with a computer. Also some ‘glass-ttys’ where shown so the move to something less noisy was well underway (see also my post on the evolution from the teletype to the touchscreen for details).

After watching the documentary twice, I started to wonder who made this documentary at the time and why. One of the comments on archive.org gives a clue:

According to the book, Open Standards and the Digital Age: History, Ideology, and Networks, this documentary was prepared for ICCC 1972, but not completed on time for the event. [see footnote 24 here]

So if you are interested in the history of computer networking and the Internet before it was the Internet, this is THE documentary to watch!

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