Penn Week 2 – Brief History of the Internet, Critique, Local Programming

“The term is the result of a software glitch that occurred in December 1995 when artist Vuk Cosic opened an anonymous email only to find it had been mangled in transmission. Cosic could make out just one legible term — —which he began to use to talk about online art.”

Web Work, A History of Internet Art
Rachel Greene

Net Art became popular in the 90s, around the end of the Cold War. A lot of the artists in this time period were responding to the politics of the time – searching for ways to express themselves in a free, open space. The internet was free and it became an open media representing a post communist "free society." At this time, the internet had a utopian halo around it and felt a lot different than it does today. Before we begin unpacking this let’s consider…

Where did the internet come from?

As We May Think / Memex (1945)

In the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic, American engineer, Vannevar Bush, describes a fictional machine (The Memex) in which people would store all their books, media, communications and be able to sort through them with a series of hyperlinks. This concept is the historic precedent for The World Wide Web and hyperlinks. (Wright, 2014)

Cold War Origins

During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union were in a constant phase of brinkmanship (threatening each other to the brink of war). In the 1950s and 1960s, scientists were exploring ways to communicate with large groups of people quickly across space and time. They came up with packet switching which allows for transmission of electronic data. (Andrews, 2019)


After The Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite, the US Department of Defense set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). It became a research experiment that allowed several computers to connect with one another on a single network. The first connected messages were between UCLA and Stanford. (Andrews, 2019)

Arpanet continued to expand throughout the 70s, becoming international by the end of the decade.

During this time…

Email is invented by Roy Tomlinson (1941–2016) who also invents the use of @ symbols in email addresses. 
Usenet, an early iteration of text based forums, is created. This was a social community that predates social networks of today.