Let me tell you a bit about it.
There are some terrible ideas in this world — checking the gas level with a lighter, going shopping just before Christmas, Marx. Likewise, there are some wonderful ideas too: pedals, sliced bread or ice cream.
One of these wonderful ideas was for the people to create fast machines for processing not only steel, but information. Information, yes: images, books, video, air pollution level, a patient’s pulse on the operating table, newsletters, latest gossip on Meghan and Harry.
All this wonders, from and especially for the human mind, could now be stored and processed more and more automatically by these machines.
The next wonderful idea was to connect these machines to each other in a network so they can exchange this information with each other: the network, or “the Net”. A feeling not as warm and fuzzy as the net income, but just as useful for humanity.
Thus, it was another wonderful (and already an obvious) idea to link these networks together. Linked networks, inter-networks, bigger and bigger inter-networks, until there was only one: the internet. And with it, the information reached anyone, anywhere, in an instant.
At first, people used the internet to exchange messages, scientific, military data, to discuss important topics such as Star Trek vs Star Wars. And, at some point, someone thought that it was actually well suited to hold a library of things linked to each other by clicking.
It was 1989, and while Germans were busy tearing down Berlin Wall, Romanian Communist Party was busy re-electing Ceaușescu (fortunately for the last time), there was this Englishman, called Tim Berners Lee. He was busy working at a nuclear physics institute in Switzerland and imagined a gigantic network of interconnected documents. One click away from each other. More and more documents.
It was to span the globe; like a world-wide web of text and all kinds of media — hence the famous abbreviation “WWW”. Oh, such a gigantic and complete global library, something that humanity only dreamed of less than a century ago. And we have all of it in our pocket…
Just as written words need paper to exist, web documents need a program called “browser”. You may know it as the Internet Explorer, or Edge, or Chrome, or, as my mom calls it, “the Internet icon”.
Computers are machines, and they are set, operated, “trained” by people using programming languages. If you don’t understand what programming is, think of a simple example: the alarm clock. When you tell it to wake you up at 6am to go to the train station, you have actually programmed it by pressing the right buttons and unlocking its bell. Likewise, programmers send instructions to laptops, tablets, phones to get them to do things (obviously with many more instructions and seriously more complex than for a simple alarm clock, but the principle is the same).
They write these instructions on the keyboard and the result looks like a poem, very precise and using certain words and punctuation. These words and punctuation are actually a programming language.
It’s far from perfect, and although many programmers initially considered it a toy, it has become so popular that we use it everywhere and in everything. And in addition, it is constantly growing, in order to satisfy our expanding web expectations.
We can navigate easily, because it made Google Maps exist the way it is. We can communicate and organise civic movements, because it allows social media to operate. We can learn faster and better, because it is the language in which Hypersay or Learn Forward digital textbooks are created. It is the first truly universal language.
And it enables this super-power at our fingertips, a click away. No installation, democratic, free, accessible.
And by the way, it’s easy enough to learn so you can try it too. Contact me if you want me to point you to learning resources, most of them free. For example, some excellent resources are Khan Academy or Codecademy.
This story was originally published in my newsletter. If you’re curious how the Internet changes our lives, concerned about protecting your privacy online and how much power big-tech has over you, or want to understand what certain things are and how they work, then head to dinu.substack.com to read more and (why not) subscribe for weekly updates.