Chapter 3 — From the birth of modern computing to the metaverse — a brief history.

In this chapter I will examine the relationship between Computer Technology (Hardware and Software) and the networks which connect them together. I will look at the early forms of networked computers and examine the technology used, its key area’s of usage and who was using it and why.

I will also examine the social and economic conditions which have given rise to this technology.

Human advancement in the evolution of technology is never just a singular event, advancement is the cause of a symbiotic effect of many different causes, situations and advancements, which then make up the ‘moment’, the advancement in technology, which then becomes accessible, and in some cases, becomes mainstream within society to nudge humanity on a new evolutionary path.

Economics, as we shall see, also has a major role to play, the markets, the movement of capital, buying and selling goods and services, the foundations of western capitalist society also have a key role to play.

Due to the sheer scope of the computing age, I have chosen to focus on specific key area’s of computer science which relate directly to my research topic

These are bullet pointed below and make up sub headings within this chapter.

1960s — Birth of a new age of computing and the counter culture.

1970s-90s Text based pre internet communities 1970s to 1990s.

2000s — The early internet

2010s — The mobile Internet, social media, Virtual Reality 2.0

2020s — Metaverse 1.0 0r Web 3.0

1960s — Birth of a new age of computing and the counter culture.

In the 1960s Daniel Bell argued that the dynamism of American society marked a major historical transition from an ‘Industrial’ to a ‘Post Industrial’ society (Kline 2003).

In the post-industrial economy the production, processing, and communication of information services and cultural commodities replaced the production and distribution of natural resources and industrial goods as the key sector of the economy (Kline 2003)

The 1960s began with the creation of an entire new entertainment medium, that would in the next 60 years, move from the laboratory to mass main stream adoption, in 1962 ‘Space War’ was created which would be known to be one of the first ever video games, which had multiple installations, across different PDP-1 computers, the code was also public domain and so has been much copied across systems and games. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacewar! )

Space War, combined art, science and emerging computer technology to create a simple, but much copied, space shooter — 1962’s ‘Space War’

This simple, but effective game, demonstrated how hardware could be used to control a graphical representation of a real world object. In the case of space war, this was an abstract simplified representation of a comic book space ship, and various shapes to resemble asteroids — humanity was able to manipulate a virtual space battle for the first time inside a screen.

Space war was created at the dawn of the space race and at an important time of friction during the cold war between the USA and the Soviet Union.

Its important to note to the reader that dates, represent time, and the 1960s began just 15 years after the end of World War 2, meaning that if you were born in 1945 as World War 2 ended, in 1960, you would be 15 years old, at the start of your teenage years, and that transitional time from childhood to adult hood — the so called formative years.

Postwar America

Films like American Graffiti and television shows like “Happy Days” portrayed Teenagers as being the new radicals and central to the changes in society, these films portrayed the late 50s, early 60s as a carefree era — a decade of tail-finned Cadillacs, collegians stuffing themselves in phone booths, and innocent tranquillity and static charm ( https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraID=16&smtid=1 ). and it is worth remembering, that these teenagers are now referred to in 2020 as the baby boomer generation.

But the post-World War II period was an era of intense anxiety and dynamic, creative change.

During the 1950s, African Americans quickened the pace of the struggle for equality by challenging segregation in court. A new youth culture emerged with its own form of music — rock ’n’ roll, Elvis, the King of Rock n Roll became a pop culture icon.

Maverick sociologists, social critics, poets, and writers — conservatives as well as liberals — authored influential critiques of American society (https://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/era.cfm?eraID=16&smtid=1) the precursor to the hippie of the 1960s, was the Beatnik was introduced to society, immortalised in Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, published in 1957.

Its during this post war transitional period that the computer age took a giant leap forward, its here that I would like to look at two defining events which would push humanity forward, edging us closer towards the metaverse.

One is technological, a showcase of the future of modern computing, and the second is a cultural event, enabled by technology, which would only be possible, because of the advancements in technology and the accessibility of television as a mainstream device (Television being a relatively new invention, the first television broadcast was 1927 — some 33 years before the start of the 1960s)

The first of these events is called ‘The Mother of all Demo’s’ the second of which is the broadcast of the first international satellite program broadcast in 1967 to over 400 million people world-wide, featuring, The Beatles.

Boom — Doug Engelbart

Doug Engelbart was the first to actually build a computer that might seem familiar to us today. He came to Silicon Valley after a stint in the Navy as a radar technician during World War 2. The Computer then, and in post war America there was only one computer, was used to Calculate artillery tables (Fisher 2018) so that the American military could bomb the enemy more effectively.

Engelbarts idea was that computers of the future should be optimised for human needs — communication and collaboration. Computers he reasoned, should have keyboards and screens, instead of punch cards and printouts. They should augment rather than replace human intellect (Fisher 2018).

Engelbarts idea was to create a tool that could be used by the future knowledge worker, to perform faster and better, this was a controversial idea (Fisher 2018) — and its this ‘Controversial’ idea label, which we shall see reapeatldy placed on so many 1960s developments, from the civil rights movement, to Vietnam, to Warhols pop art movement and many more.

Engelbart was exploring via invention, the litratreally notion suggested by Daniel Bell with his arguments on dynamism of American society moving from from an ‘Industrial’ to a ‘Post Industrial’ society (Kline 2003).

Engelbart had written a proposal after completing his PhD, which found its way to NASA and landed him some funding, his proposal was called ‘Augmenting the human intellect’.

From 1963 to the ‘Mother of all Demo’s’ in 1968 — Engelbart set to work, and invented the modern mouse and the bitmap display, and began to experiment with software development — which was a radical idea at the time, remember this was an age of mainframe computers the size of a room and programming via printed punchcards. The very notion of interactive computing was ridiculed, yes ridiculed at computer conferences of the mid 60's.

Interactive computing was said to be ‘Too Expensive, computer time is worth more than human time, therefore not cost effective, its a pipe dream’ the majority of the general public where ignorant to the idea’s of interactive computing, and the computing establishment where opposed to Engelbarts idea’s, ‘90% of the people thought Engelbart was a crackpot’ quotes Bill Paxton, a member of Engelbarts team, ‘Doug was a voice crying into the wilderness (Fisher 2018).

But Doug Engelbart and his team had an opportunity to demonstrate the technology they had hand built between 1963 and 1968, and showcase the software and technology they had created to showcase the future of human interfaced interactive computing — which would in 2020 make Apple a company valued at a trillion dollars.

The Conference they would showcase the technological computing demo would be at the American Federation of Information Processing Conference in San Francisco in December 1968, and preparations would begin in March of that year.

The demo would be paid for by ARPA.

ARPA was created by the department of defence at the instigation of President Eisenhower to support high risk research without the red tape, so that, hopefully the USA would not be surprised by Cold War advancements by the Soviet Union — the Lunch of Sputnik (Fisher 2018). Sputnik came as a massive surprise to American intelligence services, ARPA would change this.

With a budget of $175,000 of 1968 money (2022 value $1 million) the team set about to demonstrate a new age of interactive modern computing.

The Mother of all Demo’s

Picture the scene, a 1960s style auditorium, with a mainly white male mad men looking crowd, around 1000 of them, with a sprinkling of San Francisco hippie counter culture.

The location, The National Computer Conference at Brooks Hall in San Francisco’s Civic Centre in December 1968.

Englelbart is sat onstage with a giant video screen projected behind him, and a mouse at his finger tips, then in what has become known as ‘the mother of all demo’s’ Engelbart show’s off what his computer can do (Fisher 2018)

The oN-Line System or NLS Terminal had a screen and a keyboard, windows, and a mouse.

During the demo, he showed off a way to edit text, a version of e-mail, and even a primitive version of Skype / Zoom (Fisher 2018) — to the modern 2020’s audience this would just look like the computers that are common place, and doing things that our iphones can do so easily — but to the 1000 attendees on that December day in 1968, who’s computers were giant mainframes, interacted with as machinery in a room, not sat at a desk, as its equal, as a tool to communicate, These mainframes where programmable via punch cards, pieces of paper, with thousands of holes punched out of them and fed into the computer by hand, noisey, hot, loud machines, yet here interactions where typed, commands written on the screen, via a keyboard and widows opened and closed, and things selected by a mouse.

The computer who’s purpose was one of a number cruncher in a room, was in this moment, shown to be an interactive computer device which could be used as a creative tool for the advancement of the human experience, it became humanised, and a new tool set for culture was born — we had moved from the computer stone age and into a new undefined era of possibility.

But its worth noting here, that behind the scenes, what we take for granted in terms of networked computing, Wifi, broadband, 5G and free global internet, and the cheapness and abundance of digital projctors, just did not exist in 1968, and was cobbled together in order to make the demo a success.

The demo would link the Brook Hall venue with Stanford Research Institute, for the Skype / Zoom element of the demo — in 2022, you would log on to Brook Halls wifi, sip your latte and click on the video call app, and for free, video call your friend over at SRI.. not so in 1968.

Although just 30 miles apart, two video circuits where leased from the phone company, and a microwave link consisting of two transmitters where set up to receive and send communications between Brook Hall and SRI, which where housed inside large trucks, 1000s of feet of cables and homemade modems (one of a kind) to link up the computers, at a cost $175,000 ($1 million 2022 dollars)

This array of video link, audio link and computer link, transfused together and operated by Engelbart on stage at Brook Hall and the behind the scenes team at the venue, and over at SRI would be the technical wizard team, who made this demo happen — now you just click the app and away you go — e-mail, zoom, Microsoft word and WhatsApp just there, no friction, just part of our everyday lives.

and its this demo, that showed what could be done.

It took another 39 years to shrink all this technology down, so that it would fit inside your pocket, and become a swiss army knife of digital tools, with the birth of the iPhone in 2007, with so many technological milestones along the way, many of which we will explore here.

As Steve Jobs say’s ‘ We humans are tool builders. We can Fashion tools that amplify these inherent abilities that we have to spectacular magnitudes. And so for me, a computer has always been a bicycle of the mind. (Jobs ????)

A New Dawn

Engelbart’s demo, was able to showcase how technology of the day, could be put together in such a way, that it would revolutionise the way we see computing and computers — in one demo, we move from computers as perceived lumbering beasts, grazing in a giant room, noisey, hot and behind a locked door, tended by a chosen few, whom feed it instructions on punch card computer slips to solve complex mathematical problems, which only a select few technical employees will have access to and understand, we went from this, to… human interaction with a terminal, the face of the computer, the screen, reflects back at us, what we type as commands, giving the ability to almost read the computers thoughts as we type, which are infact our own thoughts — this poetic duality of connection through the act of commuincation, by typing commands on the screen, although could be percived in the modern 2020 era as a primitive interaction method, a crude way of speaking to the computer, it would not be unitil Amazons Alexa and Apples Siri voice activated computer interfaces become common place, that our interaction methods with the computer would be type based.

Its at Engelbarts demo, that we see the graphical interface of point and click with the mouse, inside a window area of the screen, to tell the computer what we want it to do — so easy that a child could do it, and this opening up a technological window to the computing world, a space that Microsoft would go on to dominate with its ‘Windows’ computers operating systems, making its founder Bill Gates, one of the richest humans on planet earth, and go on to enable the casual computer user to navigate the computer system via a graphical interface, and then in 1995 leave the confines of their home computer system and connect to the world wide web or the internet via Windows internet Explorer, but we will come to that later.

but first, we need to go back to 1967, one year before Engelbarts demo, and a time that will give us some more context as to why Engelbarts demo was so radical and opened up so many minds — as the seeds had been sown, one year previously upon the public consciousness.

1967 was a pivotal year, of the 1960s, those baby boomers born post World War 2, after 1945, the eldest cohort would now be in there early 20s, a few years into adulthood, either in work, University education, or drifting through life.

The Beatles had been with us for a few years, Sgt Pepper had just been released, England had won the World Cup, Female contraception, the pill now meant that sex could become a form of human pleasure and not just a means of reproduction, giving birth to the swinging 60s, and with that an explosion in mens and womens fashion (mini skirts), clothing no longer just had to be functionable, clothing for a specific job, and clothing for ‘sunday best’ , fashion, haircuts and your look dawned the new age of individualism, and with this, the birth of cosurism and the counter, the opposite to the establishment, the counter culture.

Conservatism attitude of the time suggested that hair on a man should be short back and sides, functionable hair, for the work place, to conform and be like everyone else, born out of the GI Haircuts of American World War 2, but now men grew their hair long, the ‘long hairs’ the hippies,

Hair became the outward focus of the youth movement because “it‟s so obvious, easy and cheap to manipulate and color . . . it has always been a frontline symbol of teenage rebellion” (Stark 177). Longer hair came to represent a multitude of possibilities, and high school and college students alike began to challenge hair and dress codes. As the rigid gender-bound modes of appearance and behavior weakened, a new style consisting of beads, necklaces, and brightly embroidered fabrics emerged to complement longer hair in the revolt against the restraints of society. Simply put, the Beatles provided a generation of cultural rebels with a banner of their rebellion, beginning with a protestation of the “indisputable principle that short hair equals men, long hair equals women” (Gould 345). (https://joss.tcnj.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/176//2012/04/2010-Corry.pdf )

there clothing bright and flowing, femine in style, counter to the masculine view of clothing at the time (Collar and tie), counter to the established 3 piece suite and bowler hat wearing middle class brigade.

The growth in television (now broadcast in Colour, formally in black white, although the majority of homes still had a black and white TV set) meant that new channels of communication, where opened up ,and people saw the world for the first time, be it, through a small box in the corner of there living rooms (now we consume media on even smaller boxes in the palm of our hands, that lives in our pockets via smart phones)

The television brought with it, for the first time, a war in almost real time, updated nightly in full colour into peoples homes, The Vietnam war, although too big a subject and full of complexity’s to talk about in detail here — what I will say is that, as a global media event, that dominated the mid to late 60s — through television and the mass media, this war, which was fought by young conscripted (The Draft) soldiers, who only became soldiers because the American government said they would become them, with an average age of just 19, these young men, in their first year of adulthood, would dramatically leave there teenage years and be thrust into a war, with a media spotlight on top of it, the war would be beamed nightly and would show the face of American youth, to the world, in armed combat, which over time, would fuel the anti-war movement and the counter to the establishment response of the counter culture — which would see teenagers wanting to ‘drop out’ of the system and ‘tune in’ to something else — because, there had to be something else…

Its here we will look at the role of communication technology and its ability to bring together collective creative ideas and present them to a mass audience, at one specific moment in time, to a mass of milions of television watchers or followers — although liner and not yet interactive, and certainly not yet populated by digital avatars, the birth of satellite television paves the way for the metaverse in numerous ways, without Satellite broadcast, we would not take the steps necessary for understanding how an information super highway might work, or the need for Youtube, one of the worlds biggest video sharing sites and social networks, or fully interactive television, these concepts I will explore here.

With the advent of Satellite broadcasting, the world would become a smaller place, information exchanges would become global — we could see humanity in luve real time thousands of miles apart.

Our World — Global Satellite Broadcast — 1967

Our World was the first live, international, satellite television production, which was broadcast on 25 June 1967. Creative artists, including the Beatles, opera singer Maria Callas, and painter Pablo Picasso — representing nineteen nations — were invited to perform or appear in separate segments featuring their respective countries. The two-and-a-half-hour event had the largest television audience ever up to that date: an estimated 400 to 700 million people around the globe watched the broadcast. Today, it is most famous for the segment from the United Kingdom starring the Beatles. They performed their song “All You Need Is Love” for the first time to close the broadcast.

“All you need is love, love, love is all you need” (Lennon-McCartney). Broadcast live on the international television special, “Our World,” the Beatles performed “All You Need is Love”. As confetti and balloons rained down from the studio ceiling, the Beatles, dressed in psychedelic attire and surrounded by the eccentric members of Britain‟s pop aristocracy, visually and musically embodied the communal message of the 1967 Summer of Love. By doing so, the Beatles asserted their role not only among the most famous people of the world but also as the acknowledged leaders of the counterculture. Indeed, the Fab Four attained power over millions singular in history among artists, in part a credit to the postwar baby boom, the resulting generational conflict and other cultural events which led to the creation of a subculture rooted in rock „n‟ roll.

From their Liverpudlian roots to the first screams of Beatlemania and eventually to the release of the Sgt. Pepper album, the Beatles developed a collective mentality and appreciation of alternative forms of consciousness which came to mark them as both agents and models of change in the counterculture. (https://joss.tcnj.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/176//2012/04/2010-Corry.pdf )

The project was conceived by BBC producer Aubrey Singer, who would later in his career go on to be controller of BBC 2 in 1974–78 (at a time when the UK had just 3 channels, BBC, BBC 2 and ITV).

The master control room for the broadcast was still at the BBC in London. The satellites used were Intelsat I (known as “Early Bird”), Intelsat 2–2 (“Lani Bird”), Intelsat 2–3 (“Canary Bird”), and NASA’s ATS-1.[2]

It took ten months to bring everything together. The Eastern Bloc countries, headed by the Soviet Union, pulled out four days before the broadcast in protest of the Western nations’ response to the Six-Day War.[1]

The ground rules included that no politicians or heads of state could participate in the broadcast. In addition, everything had to be “live”, so no use of videotape or film was permitted. Ten thousand technicians, producers and interpreters took part in the broadcast. Each country had its own announcers, due to language issues, and interpreters voiced over the original sound when not in a country’s native language. Fourteen countries participated in the production, which was transmitted to 24 countries, with an estimated audience of between 400 and 700 million people.[1][3]

2 — Text based pre internet communities 1970s to 1990s.

In this section I will explore from 1970s to the 1990s — how we got from early microcomputers in the home and the arrival of the Bulletin Board System (BBS) to the 1980s and the foundations of early internet culture, The Well, Habitat and Virtual Communities to the 1990s in Cyberspace and early Virtual Reality

3 — 2000s — The early internet

4 — 2010s — The mobile Internet, social media, Virtual Reality 2.0

Bulletin boards become graphical interfaces led by Facebook, blogging becomes micro with Twitter , the Iphone makes the internet and music mobile, everything slowly becomes data.

5- 2020s — Metaverse 1.0 0r Web 3.0

Facebook becomes Meta, Tik Tok and Music and AR, Fortnite gigs — rise of fake news, data, bots and AI Virtual humans.

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Mark Ashmore

Mark Ashmore

Mark Ashmore is a Ph.D Researcher at LJMU and founder of Future Artists - He writes about Computer Science, the Arts and Entertainment - He is also Dyslexic