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The World Wide Web at 25

/ 01:41 PM March 09, 2014

The World Wide Web celebrates its 25th anniversary this month.

It’s a good time to reflect on how, in a relatively short time, the Web has changed the way we live and work, how we engage with and defy power, how we stay connected as a nation at a time when the Filipino Diaspora continues to grow and evolve.

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The Web not only made it easier for us to communicate, it also created hundreds of thousands of jobs that enabled young Filipinos to stay home and not have to seek opportunities elsewhere.

For those of us overseas, the Web served as a key link to the homeland, allowing us to be engaged with events back home in ways that were not possible for Filipinos in the earlier years of the Diaspora. (No need to wait for newspaper clippings or even newspaper copies brought back from the Philippines by returning or visiting friends.)

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There’s a downside to this 25-year-history.

The world is marking the Web’s birthday amid efforts to clamp down on the ability of Filipinos to use it to speak out.

The Web itself has a dark, more sinister side. This was underscored by the recent, disturbing reports of a nefarious network using the Web to prey on children, mostly from poor families.

Even the speed by which information can spread through Web has at times posed problems. Take the recent report of a deadly flesh eating disease that triggered mass panic among Filipinos – which turned out to be a hoax.

Still, when it comes to spreading word about a major event, from natural disasters like Ondoy or Yolanda to the triumphs of Manny Pacquiao or Michael Christian Martinez, the Web has certainly become a critical tool.

When it comes to exposing the abuse of power and corruption, whether it involves efforts of politicians to hide ill-gotten wealth or the arrogance of a public official at a neighborhood gate in Makati, the Web has been an important weapon.

What’s also worth noting is this: While the Web relatively speaking is still young, it rests on a foundation that’s been around for about a half century: the Internet.

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In fact, how the Internet and the Web, which turned the Internet into a mass phenomenon, evolved offers lessons on how new technologies emerge and on the importance of long-term investment in education and research and development. These lessons should be considered carefully by Filipino policymakers and educators.

The Internet was a product of a combination of fear, scientific curiosity and the willingness to invest in the quest for knowledge.

It started in the late 1960s as part of a frantic U.S. response to the Soviet Union’s perceived lead in the space age and science and technology as a whole.

In reaction to the Soviet advances in space exploration in the late ’50s and early ’60s, U.S. officials pushed for the creation of a new agency called the Defense Research Projects Agency, also known as DARPA.

The agency had a unique mission: to explore the most ground-breaking, most daring, even the craziest ideas related to science and technology.

This bold effort eventually enabled the U.S. to take the lead in the space race. But the DARPA scientists weren’t only interested in space science and exploration.

DARPA research, while geared mainly to defense and military needs, led to what eventually became commercial and even popular consumer technologies, like GPS and drones.

But many DARPA researchers, together with academics throughout the U.S. and the world, were also keenly interested in another field: computers and finding ways to have them communicate with one another.

That obsession led to the creation of the Internet which initially was a network of computers the size of refrigerators communicating with one another.

For about three decades, the Internet would be a realm known mainly to researchers, engineers and scientists.

That changed when British scientist Tim Berners Lee introduced a way for computers to be connected in a network, the World Wide Web.

The year was 1989, when the PC revolution was at its peak. The rise of Web browsers led by Netscape would eventually lead to the dramatic transformation of the Internet from a geeky tool of academics and scientists to a mass phenomenon.

Of course, the debate on whether the Web has been a good or bad idea rages on.

Let me end with how Tim Berners-Lee answered this question on his personal Web page.

“Some people point out that the Web can be used for all the wrong things,” he says. “For downloading pictures of horrible, gruesome, violent or obscene things, or ways of making bombs which terrorists could use. Other people say how their lives have been saved because they found out about the disease they had on the Web, and figured out how to cure it.

“What is made of the Web is up to us. You, me, and everyone else. .. Think about most of the bad things that have happened between people in your life. Maybe most of them come down to one person not understanding another. Even wars. … Let’s use the web to create neat new exciting things. Let’s use the Web to help people understand each other.”

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TAGS: computers, DARPA, digital, Information, Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web anniversary
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