The Rise of the Internet Civilisation

From the networks to the cities.

All our civilization is based on invention; before invention, men lived on fruits and nuts and pine cones and slept in caves - REGINALD FESSENDEN

In the course of human history, several civilizations have risen in different geographical locations at different times across the world, being of varying sizes and influence, these civilizations all have left an outsized impact on the world, they define our world as we know it. Everything we find around us are all vestiges and mashups of civilizations gone by. 

Seeing the influence that civilizations have had on the development of today's world, we perhaps live in very interesting times because the greatest civilization that the world has ever seen is currently being built; The internet Civilization. Ever since the first network was created in the last 1960s, the internet has grown in leaps and bounds, although majorly virtual, the path the internet has taken is very similar to that of rising ancient civilization.

Since the first network was created, the internet has grown in leaps and bounds, although majorly virtual, the path the internet has taken in its growth is very similar to that of rising civilization.

Most civilizations the world has seen began with settlements near huge bodies of water. The Egyptian civilization started around the Nile, Sumerian civilization started around Tigris and Euphrates River. As humans retired from being hunter-gatherers to become farmers, they took up homes on fertile land near rivers so that they could produce enough to feed themselves since they weren't hunting or gathering fruits again, this settling down led to population explosions in the said settlements, before long, nearby settlements increase in population, grew into one another, and they eventually became nearly indistinguishable from one another, these settlements eventually became the foundations on which civilization were built.

These settlements eventually became the foundations on which civilization were built.

As the riverside settlements grew into each other and turned into villages, they increased in size and population, Complex social dynamics began to form. Strata started appearing in those societies; the masses who did the majority of the work and the elites who were responsible for the administration of these villages and sometimes communicating with “gods”. Professional heterogeneity and career diversification started to become a thing, although the majority of these local communities were still hugely agrarian, some individuals didn't have to till the hand farmers to make a living. First among the professions to appear apart from farming was Pottery - Pots had become so valuable in those early societies, it was needed for cooking, fetching water, and keeping food items dry. Some societies like ancient Rome will later use pot for record-keeping. Other professions that emerged in those early periods include metal smiting and bricklaying as society started developing unique architecture. Individuals fill up different roles as the needs arose in society, bringing about the early form of division of labor.

The internet civilization started in the 1960s when computer scientists in the United States were researching how to connect two more computers togethers. In 1969, successfully created a network of four computers nodes located in four universities; Stanford University, University of California Los Angeles(UCLA), University of California, Santa Barbara(UCSB), and the University of Utah. The first message sent over the network was supposed to be "LOGIN", but only "L" and "O" had been transmitted before the system crashed making "LO" the first message sent over a network.

This project created by the Advanced Research Project Agency of the United States Department of defense was dubbed the ARPANET. Some other networks which were also built in different parts of the world around the same time includes the NPL network built in the United Kingdom, CYCLADES network designed in France, Merit Network was formed in 1966 as the Michigan Educational Research Information Triad tried to explore computer networking between three of Michigan's public universities as a means to help the state's educational and economic development. These networks, The ARPANET in particular, will become the technical foundation on which the internet will later be built.

These networks, The ARPANET in particular will become the technical foundation on which the internet will later be built.

As years went by after the first successful test with ARPANET, the number of networks created around the world increased, more nodes were added to the already existing networks. By 1971, the number of nodes in ARPANET had increased to 23 from the initial four that started the network back in 1969, as the numbers of nodes on these networks grew, so did the need to link and connect these networks. The first attempt to connect two already existing networks came in 1974 when the NPL network in University of Cambridge, London was connected with the ARPANET network, which at the time already spanned the entire coast of the United States via a satellite link and the Norwegian Seismic Array(NORSAR).

This connection was possible because both networks already used packet switching, a method of data transfer that will later be adopted for the internet. In other to connect more networks, there needed to be a standard that all networks will adhere to, this led to the creation of the internet protocol.

The internet protocol is the method or a set of rules that dictates how data is sent from one computer to another on the internet. The internal protocol was organized into a 4/5layer protocol stack. The layer includes

  • Application Layer

  • Transport Layer

  • Network/Internet Layer

  • Link Layer

  • Physical Layer.

Each of those layers has a responsibility in organizing how data will be sent over the internet. At the top level of the internet protocol stack, also known as the application layer, this layer handles the user interaction with the network. Data on this layer is orgnaised by different protocols. Files and File Transfers are handled by File transfer protocol, Emails by Simple Mail transfer protocol. Webpages by Hypertext transfer protocol. A form of division of labor.

Settlements grew into villages, the prominent villages increased in size, became densely populated, division of labor and professional specialization became more prominent amongst the inhabitants, commercial activities in these places also gathered pace. Some of these large villages, which could be called a town at this point, develop their unique form of trade, commerce, and even architecture.

Archeological pieces of evidence have shown that different geographical locations developed unique architectural designs early on in their civilization lifecycle. Nascent forms of administration, centralization also begin to form, the bureaucratic tendency (leadership from top-down) also begins to emerge. Writing, record-keeping also shows up at this point. With more immigration into these towns because of the economic opportunities they had to offer, the towns grew into cities.

Life in a city civilization is entirely different from what was in the settlement, villages, or towns. Trading and specialized crafts were the order of the day, farming, agrarian work was limited to the suburbs. Cities are notable for their dense population, complex bureaucracy and administration, frenetic marketplace, complex economic system and marketplace, and technological innovations.

In cities, humans began to explore trades not for survival, but for unraveling the esoteric mysteries of the universe. Trades like philosophy, physics thrive previously in the cities as they have never before. for a trade like philosophy, humans could spend hours just listening to two philosophers haranguing on the origins of life, yeah, the city afforded them that pleasure, not everybody could get a day job due to the immense population growth. Talking about pleasure, cities invented new ways for their inhabitants to engage in pleasure. Ancient greeks built theatre to watch performances by various performers and artists. Romans built colosseums to watch gladiator fights. Cities were/are bubbling places. 

With the development of internet protocol (IP) and Transmission Control Protocol(TCP) which standardized the exchange of data between two networks, new standard networks like the CSNET, NSFNET were built, More networks became interconnected. In 1989, all the networks NASA had become interconnected, CERN(European Organization for Nuclear Research) the place where the world-wide-web was created had its network connected to another network in the US to Cornell University via an Atlantic cable, the NSFNET which was built by National Scientific Foundation(NSF) in the United States was connected to networks in France and Netherlands by the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation and  Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica respectively. In 1989, the Japan university network (JUNET) was connected to NSFNET making it the first Asia connection to what is turning out to be the internet.

By the early 1990s, a lot of networks in the world were connected. But there was a problem, although these networks were in one way or the other connected and could share emails between them, they also had forums and communication and discussion board, it was impossible to view information and share large amounts of information without moving physical computer storage from one place to another. So a computer scientist in CERN, Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed a solution with Hypertext Markup Language(HTML), Hypertext Transfer Protocol(HTTP), and Unique Resources Location(URL). The idea was simple, with a Unique Resources Location(a web address), you could see any “linked” information(hypertext) on any computer on the internet and the information will be transmitted to your screen through HTTP. The Worldwide Web(the internet city) was born.

The invention of the world wide web changed everything. If the interconnected networks(internet) were a flood, the invention of the WWW was a tsunami. Every part of mankind's existence was touched. Information could be transmitted at a light speed, every human being with an internet-enabled device just a click away. People flocked/migrated to the web in droves,  individuals were connected like never before. In 1995, just 0.4%(15millions) of the world population was connected to the internet, by 2020, that percentage had grown into 65.6%(5+ billion).

This mass adoption was driven by the invention of the web browser. The first one was invented also by the creator of the WWW, Sir Tim Berner, but the hugely popular one that became widely used, Mosiac, was developed by Marc Andressen, while he was working at the National Center for Supercomputing Application at the University of Illinois. The browser served as a gateway into this new city, once you were at the gate, provided you had the right address(web address), you could visit anywhere in this city. It wasn’t long before businesses began popping up in our new city. eBay was one of the first to open a shop in our new city, providing a store/shop for individuals to buy. More businesses like will open up in our new city in the coming years

By 2010, the web was a full-blown and thriving city. You could visit different addresses depending on what you needed. Youtube for video entertainment and learning. Blogs, Instagram, and Twitter was a place to catch us with the latest gossips. Facebook was/is a place to catch with old friends and probably make new ones, Netflix became the new city’s cinema. Coursera, Udemy, and other platforms started developing the new city educational systems. Shopify, Amazon, e-bay, Alibaba, and a host of other websites became the center of commerce and trading for our new city.

The financial sector of settlements, villages, and towns was hugely by trade by barter, people traded what they wanted with each other, at the initial stages, this worked perfectly well because the population was small and the needs weren't complex ones. But as the population grew, as cities emerged, trade by barter became a non-effective means of exchange and couldn’t handle the complex exchanges that were happening in these fast-growing places. For trade to happen in a trade by barter system, there must be a double coincidence of want. This means that both parties willing to exchange must have what the other person needed and it was becoming hard to achieve that. So civilizations adopted items that will be used as a means of exchange.

Although the idea behind this newly adopted means of exchange was the same in different places, the items adopted weren’t uniform across civilizations. The Sumerians used barley and wheat, the Aztec civilization that flourished in central America used cocoa beans, civilizations located on the coast in West Africa used beads and cowries shells. The adoption of these items solved the issues around double coincidence of want but other issues arose down the road. Most of these items weren’t a good store of value. Barley, Cocoa beans were biodegradable, so they couldn’t be stored for a long time. Imagine keeping your money in a safe and waking up one day, discovering that your money has decayed. Beads and cowries had their own issue too, Supply of bead and cowries from other locations increased so much at some point leading to hyperinflation and later abandonment of these items as a means of exchanges. Before long, civilization dropped all these items although as a means of exchange, and looked to more stable ones. In precious metals, they found a savior.

Precious metals like silver and gold were adopted as the new means of exchange because they solved the problems encountered by the previous items, Gold was hard to mine and wasn’t widely available compared to beads and cowries cubbing hyperinflation, also, these precious metals were very durable and could be stored for a very long time, solving the store of value problem.

Civilizations like Egypt, Mesopotamia switch to using the standard weight of precious metal for exchanges, trade became charged in weight of precious metals, But after the invention of the coinage the King Croesus of Lydia around 300bc, civilizations moved away from the weighted systems into the coinage system, things became measured in coins in other to give them more uniqueness and identity, faces of rulers were the coin was made were stamped on the surface of these coins. Compared to precious metal, coins were light-weighted and could be moved around easily and in a fast manner, this, combined with the uniformity and uniqueness offered, Commerce and trades within cities exploded, it also made cross border trade very easy, shops opened on the corners of every street, long trades routes around the land and sea were opened, commerce and trade flourished like never before.

The first financial transaction carried out on the internet was on the Stanford Federal Credit Union’s website, a financial institution that provided financial services to members of the Stanford community. It allowed its users to transfer funds to another user, make deposits, pay loans online.  In the coming years, more products like Milicent, E-Cash will emerge, although these products will not gain any traction among the majority of then web users, they were a precursor for things to come.

The founding of Confinity later PayPal by Peter Thiel and Max Levchin changed the whole dynamics in the digital payment space. With few details such as credit/debit card information, it became very possible to carry out transactions online, The process involved in moving money from one end of the planet to the other became democratized and widely available to the Internet user. in less than five years of PayPal's founding. it will be acquired by eBay because most of the online shoppers on eBay used Paypal for payment. But problems began to emerge, although the web was a global place that allowed everybody with an internet-connected device on it irrespective of geographical location, the current financial systems the world ran wasn't. It was siloed and fractured into countries and different financial jurisdictions. Different countries have different currencies and financial systems. This created a lot of friction connecting internet users with the financial opportunities a globally connected space had to offer. Solutions will soon be proffered.

As the Internet and web grew,  it became increasingly necessary to solved the challenge that the current Silioed/Fracture financial system posed for the internet, Companies like Stripe founded by two Irish Brothers in 2010 took the led on this problem and attempted to untangle the complexes of the world’s financial system and create a proper financial system for the internet. The efforts of these companies are paying off, The commerce on the internet has skyrocketed in recent years, Amazon, the biggest online store now ship products to every corner of the world, Shopify, is given an opportunity for the small business owner to own and sell on the internet too, by providing them with the necessary infrastructure for them saving them from having to build a virtual store from the ground up.

The boldest attempt to solve the internet financial system’s problem comes from cryptography's esoteric world. In 2008, an individual named Satoshi Nakomoto sent out a white paper, the first paragraph read

A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.

The project, which will be known as the bitcoin project, was a bold attempt to reimagine or, better still, build a new financial system for the internet. Bitcoin was the first on the list of brilliant and amazing projects that we will come to know as cryptocurrencies all of which are trying to develop a financial system native to the internet.

Cities grew, they developed unique and distinct cultures, they had arts and artists, they had administrations and leaders running their day-to-day activities, they had a unique language and a common sense of identity. Commerce, finance, and trade in these cities become fully developed. Crafts, professions became clear. Slowly these cities engulf others around them through wars, deals, conquests, inheritance and they transited into nations, kingdoms, and empires. At their height,  all these different sectors and parts of the civilization becomes fully formed and clearly defined, and each played their roles in making sure those societies and developed civilization run as effectively as they should, these sectors/part of the civilization defines every aspect of the life of the citizen/inhabitant of these civilizations and societies most times, when civilization eventually collapses, it is as a result of the failure of one or more of these sectors.

The web as a civilization is still at the stage of developing a unique identity for itself. E-commerce is still emergent in some parts of the world. The path to building a stable ecosystem for the different parts of the web is still murky and not clear. But the good thing is,  different sectors of Internet Civilisation are being built simultaneously and they will likely mature at the same time. DeFi(Decentralised Finance) is showing sufficient promise of becoming a financial ecosystem for the web, encompassing payments/exchanges, loans/credits, savings/interests, and investments.

Decentralized Autonomous Organisation and remote working are making a case how governance, organizations, administrations and the workplace can be managed on the web. The Non-fungible Token(NFT) craze that occurred early this year showed that our civilization will not be devoid of arts and artists. The rise of new web lingos i.e L.O.L, D.F.K.M, L.M.A.O, emojis, crypto punks, laser eyes has also shown that our new civilization is totally capable of developing a unique culture and language. The success of remote learning with Youtube, Udemy, and other online learning platforms has revealed that education in our new civilization won’t be far-fetched. Tiktok, Facebook, Twitter have shown that socialization in our emerging civilization won’t be a hard thing to do. Amazon, Shopify, Alibaba, and other e-commerce websites have shown that commerce and trades in our civilisation will be very successful. The different part of our civilisation are coming together quite beautifully.

Ancients Civilisation began with settlements of small populations near bodies of water, and grew into behemoths with complex parts and systems running in synergy, these parts developing at a different time of the civilization lifecycles.

The Internet started as a group of networks when computer researching were researching how to connect one computer to another, since then, it has grown, becoming a civilization not restricted by any geographical location, where anybody connected to it can enjoy all the pecks it as to offer; employment, trade, socialization, education e.t.c although there is still some much to be built, there is no doubt that the internet civilization is here to stay for a long time.