Monday, March 26, 2007

Who Invented the Internet?

Apologies for the lack of activity here recently. There are a number of real world reasons for this which I won't bore you with. Normal service will resume shortly.

In the meantime, here's a little something for you. I started writing this last weekend before the offline world so rudely interrupted. This is a reworked version.

The question which has been on my mind recently is, can there ever be objective reality in political debate? (For a deeper discussion as to whether there even is such a thing as objective reality, you'll need to go to a philosopher. For the purposes of this, it is enough to accept that a tree in the woods has either fallen down or it hasn't. It's status can be checked and an objective reality can be agreed.)

Politics is all about differences of opinion of course but it seems to me that more and more time is spent arguing over the facts rather than the policies which address the facts. This is, I believe, one of the reasons why so many people are disillusioned with politics. The economy is booming/on the verge of collapse, crime is rising/falling, we're winning/losing the war and so on. It's not an edifying sight so see politicians squabbling over the facts in this way. Who wants to live in a world where nothing is real and everything is a matter of opinion?

Here's an example. Rather than tackling a big issue, I thought I'd start with an inconsequential one. The opportunity arose when Dizzy wrote a response to Tim's post on Dizzy. I felt no need to leap to Tim's defence, he's a big boy and can certainly look after himself, but I did decide to try to make a wider point.

Dizzy had written this:
Where [sic] Gore invented teh Interweb (All Praise the Gore!), he invented the blogosphere.
The "Gore claimed he invented the internet" meme is pretty widespread, it has to be said, but is it actually true?

On the face of it, it appears unlikely. Why on earth would a politician make such an extraordinary claim, one which was certain to be subject to endless ridicule?

Objectively, we can say that Gore never said the words "I invented the internet", What he actually said is recorded here.
During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.
And, as Snopes points out, what Gore meant was that "he was responsible, in an economic and legislative sense, for fostering the development the technology that we now know as the Internet". In context, this is obvious; he just said it very clumsily. Indeed.

As to whether that claim was valid, here's what two of the "founding fathers" of the internet had to say about Gore and the claim:
Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development.

No one person or even small group of persons exclusively "invented" the Internet. It is the result of many years of ongoing collaboration among people in government and the university community. But as the two people who designed the basic architecture and the core protocols that make the Internet work, we would like to acknowledge VP Gore's contributions as a Congressman, Senator and as Vice President. No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time.
And he won an award for it too.

So, although it may be a matter of opinion as to the extent of Gore's contribution, his claim certainly wasn't entirely baseless. Essentially what we have here is a politician bigging himself up clumsily but with some amount of justification for the part he played in promoting the internet.

Objectively, we can say that Al Gore never claimed to have invented the internet in the way that was claimed by Republicans.

I decided to see whether Dizzy would agree so I submitted this comment:
"Where Gore invented teh Interweb..."

Urban myths are neither clever nor funny.

There is, I think, a difference between being politically partisan and being a truth distorting propagandist.
That was a bit rough but it's my understanding that Dizzy's a big boy too. Dizzy's response:
Curious Hamster, urban myth are funny if their intended target audience is Adam from Cross Pond who is, of course, simple great.
I have to admit to not understanding fully what he's saying here (and I've not had the time to find out about Adam and what he has to do with this) butDizzy does at least seem to accept that the Gore claim is an urban myth. Fair enough.

Not everyone was convinced though. Since PragueTory also appeared in the comments to that post, I also had a go at asking him the question that he's gone through hoops to avoid answering recently. Slightly cheeky perhaps but I couldn't resist:
Apologies for going off-topic but since PT is here, I would like to ask he ever got round to looking at the evidence of Guido's "beyond the pale" activities? (I won't "spam" the relevant link. PT knows what I mean.)

I only ask because people may be starting to think he's a coward who runs away when he's not got any answers and I'm sure none of us wants that.

Anyway. Must dash, Got stuff to do this afternoon. I'll check back to see if any answer is forthcoming later.
And, when I came back later, PT had responded. Of sort:
Stop giggling at the back. He only said he created the internet. Oh forget it. Let's all laugh and point.
Oh, how I laughed.

The effortless way he avoided the question is evidence of a real master at work. I did reply but, alas, although my comment was submitted well before Dizzy shut the thread down (due to a discussion between him and Tim, it seems), it never appeared. It has, I'm afraid, disappeared into the interweb ether.

In any event, attempts to get PragueTory to answer a straightforward question are probably doomed to failure from the very start. Perhaps that's why my comment didn't get through; maybe Dizzy realised that I was wasting my time with him. And what chance do you think I'd have had of getting PT to accept that Gore never actually claimed to have created the internet if the thread had remained open?

No, me neither. For PT, reality can go whistle. It's certainly not nearly as important as the opportunity to take cheap shots against political opponents. And there are more and more bloggers who do this. The accepted granddaddy of this sort of thing, "Guido Fawkes", likes to claim that Tim Ireland's exposés of his behaviour are somehow part of a Brownite plot orchestrated by Tom Watson. Anyone who's read Bloggerheads for any length of time will know that that's utter bilge of course but repeated often enough, some will start to believe it. And with that, objective reality in politics becomes just that little bit further away.

George Orwell famously wrote that "politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia". Sadly, the political blo****ere now looks to be going the same way.

It could be argued that this invasion of partisan spin and bull onto the interwebs is an unstoppable and inevitable result of modern politics and human behaviour. Perhaps it is but we'll never know for sure if we don't at least make the effort to stop it. And that's one of the reasons why I'm on the blogroll here (not the bogroll) and why I think you should be too.

(By the way, in the interests of transparency I should also say that I think Al Gore is a bit of a git. But not because he claimed he invented the internet. He didn't.)


Bill said...

And that's one of the reasons why I'm on the blogroll here

Another of your massively interesting posts ;) (and I'm not being entirely facetious, only partly so). By the way, what has happened to your own little blogroll - it's now a shadow of it's former self, indeed I blogged about the phenomenon a few weeks ago:

More seriously I hope your 'real world' pressures are not negative; you're not involved in election activism are you ahead of the May elections?

dizzy said...

Hi curious hamster, apologies for my crypticness. Adam from CrossedPond and I have known each other for a long time. There is a running internet nerd joke that whenever one mentioned Al Gore one must also "Praise teh Gore" For it is he that invented teh Interweb!" It's a piss take basically.

Also the reaosn I mentioned it in that post was precisely because it is bollocks. As to are many of the claims that TI makes re blogging and his "firstdom".

Incidentally, the answer to your title question really depends on how we define the Internet. If we mean HTTP, and "teh web" then clearly Tim Berners-Lee started it all off with his nifty little httpd daemon. However, at the same time the network existed for many years with BBS, gopher, Usenet, IRC, MUDs (god I love MUDs) and many other weird and ownderful protocols including of course the genius of RFC 196.

CuriousHamster said...

Hi Bill. The blogroll thing is mostly about my inability to make a decision. When I switched to the new Blogger, I couldn't decide whether to import my old blogrolls or take the opportunity to revamp them. In the end, I really did neither. I started adding some to the new Blogger system, then had a change of heart, then did nothing. It's sort of been nagging away at the back of my mind since then but I'm a world class procrastinator and that's where I am at the moment. Thanks for reminding me though. I do need to sort it out.

My real world pressures are entirely non-political. Nothing too dramatic or interesting. Nice of you to ask.

Dizzy, thanks for clearing that up.

Bill said...

I started adding some to the new Blogger system, then had a change of heart, then did nothing.

Thanks for the explanation. Of course what you choose to put in your blogroll is entirely your business and if you want it to include only a very select few like-minded individuals then that too is entirely your prerogative; that is where it currently stands as a result of the 'start' you made in transferring the data from old Blogger to new Blogger, presumably the choices you made then were conscious ones - they don't seem to be entirely random, frankly.

Incidentally when I converted from the old Blogger to the new Blogger I didn't even have to think about transferring across my blogroll because for some time (probably the last four or so years, if I recall correctly) all my blogroll-type links have been held separately in my various blog profiles at Blogrolling ( - I have found this makes managing my blogrolls much more straightforward as I don't have to muck around with the blog template every time I want to add (or occasionally, delete) a link; almost all the 'deletions' I have ever carried out have been because the blogs they link to have become inactive for more than three months although I have deleted a few links for other reasons, usually flagged-up with a post in my blog to explain why. All 'Blogrolling' requires is a short piece of code in my template for each separate list I want to include - it's a bit of work to set-up, but really helps in the long run.

Neil Craig said...

In those terms "Al Gore invented the internet is much less clumsy expression than Gore's own "I took the initiative in creating the Internet". The experts quoted make it clear that what he did was to "support" it after its invention, which is not taking the initiative. Gis detractors have overstated their case, but not nearly as much as he did.