THE ELECTRONIC REVOLUTION
We are all aware of the first and second industrial revolutions as described in our Text: “Technology and American Society, and how they have influenced our lives
and cultures today. This material has been presented in a limited amount so we may
have an understanding of the major technological transformations of the last three
centuries and the causes and effects of technological change. 1
I will present in this paper a limited view of a subject not covered or classified,
which (if not already) has affected our lives. Even though the Electronic Revolution is a
broad statement in itself, and may have different meanings to many people, I will
concentrate on one aspect of this Electronic Revolution; “The World Wide Web.
But what is the World Wide Web? Where did it come from, and why is it so
popular and so potentially important? Is it a system of both communications and
publication? How does it work, what effect does it have on our lives, and what can we
expect in its future? These are the questions I will attempt to answer.
The Industrial Revolution dominated the economy. Half of the population
contributed to the manufacturing of man-made goods. The enactment of the Patent
Law of 1790, the improvements with our infrastructure, and the availability of a vast
array of natural resources entered us into the modern era of the factory, and rapid
The Second Industrial Revolution was of course related to the first except for it’s
growth, which was even faster. Major developments with the internal combustion
engine, electricity, chemicals, continued improvements of transportation and the
organized research lab propelled us into the Twentieth Century.
The Electronic Revolution, related to both revolutions has produced
technological changes even more rapidly than the first two. Major developments with
metallurgy, solar and nuclear power, circuit boards, microprocessors, and the
establishment of the “Information Highway” will beam us into the Twenty First Century.
Technological change is often dependent on existing needs, and does not
emerge all at once. That the rate and amount of technological changes are influenced
by outside sources other than the specific technology at hand. One of these outside
influences is our political climate, and how the laws of government can have an impact
on the rate, amount, type, and by whom technology is developed.
The Clinton administration, shortly after Bill’s inaugural address, had paved the
way for a specific technology to advance at a high rate of speed. By vowing the
government’s commitment via dedicating funds for research and development,
instituting certain corporate tax breaks, and creating the National Technical Information
Service (NTIS) 2, to support his much-hyped information superhighway (or, more
properly, Global Information Infrastructure).
Thus “The World Wide Web. The World Wide Web is among the most rapidly
adopted technological entities of a century that has seen many changes, and
understanding it might be crucial for understanding the next century.
The World Wide Web dates back to March of 1989. In that month, Tim Berners-
Lee of Geneva’s European Particle Physics Laboratory constructed a proposal to
develop a “hypertext system” for the purpose of enabling efficient and easy information
sharing throughout the world’s researchers in the field of High Energy Physics. 3
The basic proposal consisted of these components:
? A consistent user interface. (Availability)
? The ability to incorporate a wide range of technologies and document types.
? A “universal readership”; that is, anyone on the network, on a different computer, could read the same document as anyone else, and could do so easily. (Standardization)
This idea would allow collaborative researchers to present their research,
complete with texts, graphics, illustrations, and ultimately sound, video, and other
means as required.
October 1990: almost a year later, the project was presented again with some
minor changes. Two months later the project began to take shape. Work began on the
first “line browser” for the World Wide Web (WWW or Web), and by the end of 1990 this
browser and a browser for the “NeXTStep operating system were well on the way. 3
March 1991: now two years later after the original proposal, the first WWW
browser saw limited network use, and two months later, the WWW browser was
extensively in use at Geneva’s European Particle Physics Laboratories, and the Web
was off and running.
By October 1991: merely ten months after starting work on the project, seminars,
workshops and newsgroup announcements were held about the Web. In addition, this
brought the installation of the gateway for Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS)
searches (Now known as WAISgate, a critical development for the Web’s future as a
search and browsing tool).
With his proposal it seems that Tim Berners-Lee had a technological break-
through of the century at hand even though he was improving on existing technology.
As we have seen from our lessons, technological achievements are often a
result of past technological advances that were previously discovered or
improved. Such a case being the discovery of a Penicillin strain by Alexander Fleming
in 1928. Even though three men had received the Nobel Prize for penicillin, women had
discovered the mold’s usefulness centuries ago. (Halsbury 1971, 19; Raper 1952, 1)
One individual, Elizabeth Stone, an early antibiotic therapist specialized in treating
lumberjack’s wounds with poultices of moldy bread in warm milk or water, “she never
lost a patient” (Stellman 1977, 87).8
By the end of 1991, Geneva’s European Particle Physics Laboratory, made the
Web available to the High Energy Physics community.
It is important to realize that the Web is a concept, not a program, a system, not
even a specific protocol. It might be more accurate to call it an interface, or even a
meta-interface (meta: (Greek) after; an interface that incorporates other interfaces).
However, words with meta as a prefix went out of favor during the early nineties.
Calling the World Wide Web a concept, however, does not actually answer the
question of what the Web is and what previous technologies it uses. To due so we will
look at three areas: Hypertext, Internet, and Multimedia. This will help us understand
both the World Wide Webs past and future.
Hypertext was introduced back in the seventies by the sometimes visionary,
sometimes flaky, and always provocative Ted Nelson. 13 Hypertext is extremely simple.
A hypertext document is one that provides clearly visible links to other documents in a
hypertext computer environment. Selecting a link in one document moves you directly
to another. Not entirely completed, it was Nelson’s vision to link all the world’s
information in a huge hyperlink system.
The Internet (Net)is a global system of networked computers that allows user-
to-user communication and transfer of data files from one computer to any other on the
Multimedia is the combination of presentational technologies in an effort to
appeal to as many of our senses as possible, by drawing on graphics, sounds,
animation, and video to create a full, rich computing experience.
The World Wide Web has been described as a “network information delivery
system” or “distributed information system. Neither really tells us what it is. Lets try
this: “The World Wide Web is a convergence of computational technologies for
presenting and linking information dispersed across the internet in an easily accessible
The World Wide Web contains the technologies necessary to give the Internet a
pretty face. While certainly in need of further development, the Web lets information
presenters place graphics, sound, and video within a page, and users with a direct,
high-speed connection can download them quickly enough to feel the full effects of the
interactive relationship with the computer.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how the World Wide Web
was started, what it is, how rapidly it developed, and how the need of a certain group
(the High Energy Physics community) developed an advanced technology of an
existing one so it may benefit. Quite often, a technological leap forward takes place
because of the availability of complimentary technological developments that allow
the resolution of fundamental problems. 9 We can also see how Corporate Research
Laboratories (the first by GE, 1901) play an important role to organized technological
We know that technological advancements have been the greatest single
source of economic growth. It creates entirely new products which in turn supports the
improving quality of our material lives. At the same time we may find a resistance to
change by people who are faced with new technologies. Weather it be in some form
of a guild, simply a lack of understanding, or to preserve the old fashion way of life.
The Internet has emerged as a huge, rich source of information accessible only
via a series of not-so-friendly interfaces. Telnet, FTP, Archie, WAIS, and even E-Mail,
(to name a few) are powerful, but complex systems. The rapid growth of the Internet’s
user base has resulted in an increasing number of people who have neither the
patience nor the desire to learn the intricacies of these interfaces.
Even those who know them, however, are aware that easier systems can very
quickly result in greater productivity. Enter the World Wide Web, the conceptualized
system that would allow users to access information across computer networks in a
standardized, attractive, accessible, and user friendly format.
1992 was a year that we first saw the development of two browsers to interact
with Internet interfaces via the World Wide Web server at the Geneva Lab. These
browsers were presented to various organizations and audiences.
By 1993 there was fifty Web servers in existence and traffic on the Web
increased approximately 10 fold by mid 1993. By October 1993 there was
approximately 500 servers. The Web again, was rapidly moving forward.
1994: The New York Times continually published articles about the Web and it’s
potential uses. A browser was developed by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell
University for the use with Microsoft Windows. Development of systems to “Secure The
Web” were in place and the licensing of browsers to commercial developers, such as
Netscape Communications took hold. 12
Web browsers that take full advantage of this new technology make the Internet
easy to use. It is not hard to see where the history of attractiveness and usability has
come from in the computing world. Essentially, the World Wide Web and its browsers
have done for the Internet in 1994 what the Macintosh did for the personal computer
ten years before. (But that’s another Electronic’s Revolution story!)
Simply put, people could use Macintoshes easily, and that’s something that was
never true of the IBM PC or its mainframe predecessors. The Mac hid the difficulties of
the command-line with a bunch of objects you could click on with a mouse. When
Microsoft released Windows 3.0 with its icons and point-and-click interface, the masses
indeed took over.
Now with World Wide Web browsers that offer an interface that is as easy to use
as the computer itself, the Web threatens to overtake all Internet use. Perhaps, if not
already, the most important Internet tool of all, electronic mail.
The development of technology is an inherently dynamic and cumulative
process. Dynamic, because a technology is never perfect; there is always room for
improvement. Cumulative, because for one advance paves the way for another. 10
Remember the Tim Berners-Lee proposal; the World Wide Web, it was simply
termed a “hypertext system. It became more than that. In our definition of what the
World Wide Web is, it explains that the Web is a cleverly designed collection of
technologies. These technologies provided the Web team with materials, tools, and
most importantly a knowledge base for the next stage of develoment. This allows for
the very real possibilities that other technologies will soon merge from it.
The Internet, it was said, is in need of a “killer app”(advanced application). It
needs one tool, one program, one application that would take it from being a much-
hyped but difficult-to-use linking of computers around the world to being a highly
informative, highly usable database and communication tool.
The spreadsheet was the killer app for PCs a long time ago, but so far the Net
doesn’t have one. Some have given killer app status to the popular program Mosaic,
but Mosaic still has it’s difficulties and limitations. The same holds true for the equally
popular Netscape Navigator, which also has been touted as a killer app, and for all the
various, alternative and commercial Web browsers that have hit the market over the
The true killer app of the Internet remains somewhere around the corner, and
nobody knows if just one killer app can handle the Internets complexity. Until we have
one, we simply will not know.
What the Internet does have, however, is a killer concept – the World Wide Web.
In only a few short years of its existence, the Web has captured the imagination of data
searchers and information surfers alike. Is its popularity difficult to understand?
The World Wide Web provides the technology needed to offer a navigable,
attractive interface for the Internet’s vast array of resources, in much the same way that
the tool bar on a word processor screen obscures the intimidating codes that the
program actually consists of. Given the Net’s history of nearly impenetrable commands
and procedures, and the trend in today’s software to hide complexity behind usable
interfaces, this capability is essential if the Net is to become a mainstream set of
Have we or will we be affected by the World Wide Web and does this play
a part in what the future may hold?
Due to the needs and requirements necessary for the World Wide Web, we have
seen, and will see, the Electronic’s Industry grow and expand. We currently use the
Web for graphical design of information, dissemination of research (the original purpose
of the Internet and the Web proposal), browsing and ordering products, client and
customer support, and the display of creative art.
For any technology, it’s impossible to predict the future. No sooner are the
predictions made than the technology develops unexpected adherents and unforeseen
uses. This was the case with Sarnof and the television. But trends can count for
something, and the Web has revealed nothing if not a series of trends toward future
use. Let us at look some current use’s and present some ideas to be explored.
Publishing: A wide range of publishers have already appeared on the Web.
Selected articles from newspapers, magazines, and special groups are common place.
Soon everything ranging from children’s books to full magazines.
Voting: With the White House and other governments accessing and providing
information(FEDWORLD) 11, it seems only a matter of time until the Web can be used
Live Entertainment: With the Web, entertainment can be interactive. Why not
visit a comedy club on amateur night in another state where you can participate with
your own material. We can now view video on the Web but much like television it is
News: The problem with today’s newsgroups is that we get the news they want
us to have. With the Web we can select the news and the region that interest’s us.
Education: We now can access research papers from universities and colleges,
and view a limited amount of information from their libraries. 6 Soon we will be able to
register on-line for courses, and submit term papers and exams.
If you answered no to the question of has it or will affect our lives, you may want
to rethink that and turn to our children of today, the leaders of tomorrow, and ask the
question to them.
There are many other applications not mentioned, but you can see the
possibilities, and with each possibility comes a new user, a new entrepreneur, a new
company or corporation. We can not say for sure how the road will be traveled. What’s
certain is that the World Wide Web is extremely flexible, and that its capabilities have
not even begun to be explored. Hopefully. the next time you log onto the Web, or even
for your first time, and you see the address, www…, it should have a whole new
meaning for you!
** Excluding the required reading necessary to reference quotes, all other material used
to write this paper was gathered from the Web. 5