Conclusions to History

September 22nd, 2016

It’s strange to think that we have, as a group, successfully covered the history of internet in three weeks. Well, to be exact, a condensed overview of the history. While I can’t claim that I understand everything in the readings perfectly, I’ve certainly come a long way from when I first walked into the class, having never considered the internet as a product from the past. In fact, describing the internet as a product brings everything more into perspective for me, as I can consider it with respect to technological products of current day.

In my life time, I have seen the iPhone evolve from the first generation to the seventh; I have seen its advertisements cataloguing the types of changes made; I have watched the demonstrations put on before new releases; I have seen video reviews made by consumers of the product. The internet, in a sense, went through the same phases, but in a slightly less straightforward and commercialized manner. Rather than having clearly labeled periods where each new “edition” was strictly highlighted as distinct from the previous, the internet evolved much more gradually. From readings, it appeared that the changes made to the systems were in fact not driven by the pressure to create new additions within a set time frame, but motivated simply by the desire to improve upon the user experience. At the same time, the internet, at least during its initial stage, was less about exposing its usability to those outside of the technology circle. As opposed to Apple which made a conscious effort to break down complex technical jargons into terms understandable to its consumers, the internet had a much different audience, one that had more experience with the product itself. In this sense, the earlier internet community was a bit more “exclusive,” as it really wasn’t designed with the entire population in mind. Similarly, the releases and demonstrations were less about garnering day-to-day users as they were towards proving that the internet actually works! Unlike Apple, which already has a strong brand name built, the internet in its earlier stages had to prove itself and its feasibility. In my opinion, the internet had a greater “barrier” as no similar products have really existed before.

I’m not sure if the workers of the internet ever foresaw the incredible influence it would have on our present day, whether from a social or economic standpoint, but it would be interesting to delve into these different sides in the upcoming weeks and to examine how they have evolved with respect to the evolution of the internet.

A Collection of Thoughts

September 15th, 2016

I really enjoy this exercise of writing a blog after each meeting. By creating a space dedicated to the seminar itself, I am able to reflect on the materials and pick through new information to identify topics that really resonate with me. Before coming to Harvard, I conducted computational chemistry research at a local university. But during the two years, I only scratched the surface of the “nuts and bolts” of the why’s and how’s of computational work. In a sense, I’ve always been more focused on the present and future of computers and the internet rather than the history and progression from times of the past. However, after the first seminar meeting, I found a strong sense of urgency in understanding how the past and the present relate to each other. After all, the present that we are in right now will become that past forty or fifty years down the road.

One of the most entertaining parts of the reading was the conversation between PARRY and The Doctor, which branched out in multiple directions before ending with the rather hilarious labeling of The Doctor as a nag. The interaction between the two conversational programs, however, resembled the interaction one would have with Siri in present times. Although Siri appears to be less argumentative in comparison, it still possesses some of the qualities and design of PARRY and The Doctor. For example, it tends to imitate a real life conversation by observing common etiquette rules such as using greetings and exclamations. However, Siri is capable of more complex tasks such as using Automatic Speech Recognition and carrying out actions based on users’ commands. It would be extremely interesting to see a conversation between PARRY and SIRI, which would be symbolic, in a way, of a meeting and confrontation between products of different generations.

Another interesting discussion was focused on the use of the @ symbol in email communications. As the line “If you always wanted to know who put the ‘at’ sign in your Email addresses, then When Wizards Stay Up Late is the book for you” was printed at the top of the cover page of the book, I have been careful to not miss the explanation while going through and catching up in the readings. The end result was a bit more anticlimactic than I expected, with Tomlinson simply picking a punctuation he wanted without realizing what he had done would leave a continuing legacy. However, the ensuing debate appeared more interesting, with different sides questioning what should go on the sides of the “@” sign and whether the sign was appropriate at all. To me, this revealed how much thought was given to a convention that is often taken for granted today and reinforced how the little details we see on our screen may have rich histories behind them.

Excited for next class and all the surprises that will come along the way!