I take umbrage to a lot of what Obama had to say recently about how none of us succeeded on our own merits, but rather because government is a warm, cuddly Sugar Daddy. The part I found most objectionable, though, was this:
“The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
I was there, at Carnegie-Mellon in the early to mid-80s, when the internet was becoming a reality. While you were vacationing in Pakistan, mister president, I and my fellow eggheads were exploring the possibilities of a whole new world. (Who the hell vacations in Pakistan anyway?) We were writing software that was early versions of what is now EDA, CAD, and the CGI stuff that made that Lord Of The Rings army of tens of thousands of Orks possible.
And we were fueled by 16 ounce returnable glass bottles of Coke and Diet Coke. One of the first uses of the internet was checking the status of the Coke machine on the third floor of Science Hall, now known as Wean Hall. COLD, WARM, or EMPTY. Oh, how I dreaded seeing the Diet Coke spots register as EMPTY. At least with WARM, you could put the caffeinated goodness over ice. With EMPTY, your options were quite limited, since there was nowhere else to get a Diet Coke in the middle of the night.
I have some sobering news for Obama. The government didn’t fund that research. A couple of guys with long hair and a penchant for playing Hacky-Sack in their bare feet did it because the machine was two floors down from the Comp Center, and they were tired of wandering down there for warm beverages, or no beverages at all. The government didn’t fund much of anything, except the ARPAnet, which gets the credit for being the first network. It was fragile and exploitable, though. Dozens of geeks trying to break it, without one dime of Uncle Sam’s money, not only improved the the quality of the government network, but led to the internet as we know it today.
What Obama doesn’t want to admit is that one of the beauties of the internet is how little involvement government has had in it. It is a free-wheeling arena of ideas and commerce precisely because the private sector saw the potential, made the thing happen, and everyone has been rocking and rolling ever since. I’m certain that it endlessly perturbs him that something wonderful occurred because of free markets and curious minds, not government handouts. I’m also certain he’ll get over it someday.
The mythology has gone from “Al Gore invented the internet” to “the government invented the internet.” Right. And I’m the Easter Bunny.