The Internet had its developmental roots in the U.S.military during the 1960's. The Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA, was funded by the Department of Defense and was a Cold War military project to test the possibilty of creating a disaster-proof nationwide computer system. It was designed for purposes of military communication in a United States devastated by a Soviet nuclear attack. The goal was to develop a peer-to-peer computer system--a radical departure from the conventional mainframe hierarchical system. Unlike the top-down system, which was vulnerable to attack, this revolutionary system would be impossible to destroy because it would have no hub n1.
Prior to 1991, the Internet primarily connected government and educational institutions. Commercial enterprises were only allowed access for research and development and were restricted by the Acceptable Use Policy established by the federal government n1.
The Commercial Internet Exchange Association (CIX) was established in 1991, specifically to provide a non-restrictive pathway for business participation on the Internet. This cleared the way for commercial application, and although the Internet was developed to aid military and educational research, there are now more commercial addresses on the Internet than any other type. For less than the cost of cable, this vast store of information, both useful and useless, is now available to all who have a modem, a telephone line, and a computer n1.
The Internet is a packet-switched "computations" network. From the user's point of view, the system begins with a personal computer (PC) connected in some fashion to a local area network (LAN). If the computer is at a campus location, chances are high that it is connected to an Ethernet (coaxial cable) LAN. The PC communicates with a "server" unit that connects with regional and national wide area networks (WANS) via gateways (linking LANS and WANS) and routers. Most of these are housed at supercomputer centers. If the PC is not at a campus location, then the connection can be enjoyed through a telephone line via a modem. In this case, one "jacks in" to a remote server location sponsored by a university (.edu), government agency (.gov), nonprofit organization (.org), or private company (.com) n2.
But the Internet is more than just a collection of computers and cables. It is a worldwide community of people who share a wide variety of interests and resources. This hybrid technology covers a bewildering variety of services, ranging from the simpler text-based electronic mail to more complex generation and dissemination of interactive audio and video. There are functions available on the Internet which allow users to join Usenet newsgroups, search indices, transfer files, download software, sell products and hold video conferences. All Internet services occur without consideration to geographical boundaries; it is easy and instantaneous to transmit and receive a message from Tibet as it is from across town n1.
No other medium shares its unique characteristics: (1) a willing, literate, interactive, non-captive audience, which can easily shift from information producer to information consumer; and (2) a decentralized nature which makes possible worldwide transmissions from any location to any location with a telephone line and a modem n1.
The Internet is not a passive medium; it is interactive and requires a pro-active effort from its users. Almost without exception, photographic information must be actively sought out, downloaded and, in many cases, decoded. In cyberspace, no transmission of information occurs unless the user specifically requests it. Online users can engage in one-on-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, or many-to-many communications. In other words, there is no limit to the number of people on the receiving or sending end of the communication n2.