The Real Internet Came from Spontaneous Order
HT: John Stossel via Warren SmithThe Internet today bears little resemblance either to what the government wanted to build or to what it actually built. The innovations in networking that produced today’s Net occurred as much despite government funding as because of it. If anything, therefore, the Internet represents the success of spontaneous ordering over central planning, not the successful design of a new technology by the state.Today’s Internet is the embodiment of a spontaneous order in many ways. No agency or board controls it. No central planner decides how it will operate. It ignores national borders. It has changed the world.Yet a few years ago, little of what we know today as the Internet existed: no bookstores, no Web pages, little public access beyond academic institutions. Before the Internet, there was ARPANET—the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network—a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) network that is often described as the forerunner of today’s Internet. The ARPANET connection is thus the source of the “we wouldn’t have it without the government” story.Unlike the mythical Internet that sprang forth from the ARPANET, the real Internet grew out of a spontaneous ordering process of the interactions of millions of individual users. The uses we make of the Internet were unimaginable to the researchers and scientists who created the networking protocols and hardware advances we rely on today. Far from being the result of the government’s “strategic” investment in the original Defense Department networks, today’s Internet developed at most accidentally from and often in spite of those investments. The explosive growth in commerce, for example, became possible only when the government’s ban on commercial use of the networks it financed was lifted.Moreover, the “strategic” nature of the early investment in networking is a myth. No one consciously created the Internet. While an international network of networks undoubtedly would look different today had ARPANET never existed, there is also little doubt that packet-switching and e-mail would have evolved anyway. Dedicated, motivated people with a need to communicate—for commercial and noncommercial purposes—would have surely seen to it.