Thirty years ago today, the Internet was born. It was one small step for an electron, one giant leap for mankind.
The actual moment happened when researchers, supported by a government body known as the Advanced Research Projects Agency, hooked up a computer to a type of switch known as an interphase message processor. The purpose was to help military and academic researchers share data more quickly.
A few weeks later, on Oct. 20, 1969, those scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles got their computer to talk to one at Stanford University. They typed "L" and then "O" - and then the system crashed. It was as prosaic as "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you."
Back then, it was called ARPAnet. By 1991, when the government opened it up to wider public use, it was known as the Internet - giving us e-mail, the World Wide Web, Amazon.com, e-Bay, AOL, crazy stock offerings for Net startups, and a zillion niche cyber-communities.
Now the world is literally at our fingertips. Friends and families keep in closer touch. Shopping is a click away. A revolution has hit businesses.
As with almost any new technology, there's room for abuse. The Web is a playground for pornographers, hate groups, terrorists, and gamblers. Hackers infiltrate government and commercial computer networks. Parents worry about how to protect children while government struggles with how to regulate or tax the Net, if at all.
Thirty years on, the challenge is to make the best use of it and ensure access for everyone. So far, the Internet is more liberating than oppressive.
It's also taken for granted. Someday, this date will be as little remembered as those for the invention of the telephone and electric light bulb.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society