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Author: Scott A. Merriman
Title: Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon)
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
November 2000

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Source: Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon)
Scott A. Merriman

vol. 3, no. 3, November 2000
Article Type: Book Review

Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon)

Scott Merriman

Hafner, Katie, and Matthew Lyon, Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996). $14.00 (paper, 1998 edition) $22.50 (hardcover, 1999 edition).

This work discusses, as the title foreshadows, the origins of the Internet. However, this is not the immediate origins of the Web as we know it today with graphical interfaces, web browsers and mass commercialization. Other works will have to be consulted for those who wish to know that account. Hafner and Lyon's account is more the story of the Arpanet, which evolved to form the Internet, which in turn allows the Web to function, and a reflection on those pioneers who "stayed up late" to create this marvel.

The book emerged from a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Internet. Some of the pioneers at that event wanted to correct the misinterpretation that the Internet had been founded to protect the United States' nuclear capability in case of a surprise attack. Instead, this book's successful contention is that the purpose of the Internet was to share computing resources and to channel information from one research center to another.

However, Hafner and Lyon do far more than that. They also discuss what brought about the Internet, and the history of ARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency), who provided all of the original funding for the Net. Their work does a good job of discussing and painting the personalities involved (some of whom were quite colorful), and of explaining the technical hurdles which had to be overcome. Clearly these men were programming "wizards," and the second half of the title is also proven true as many men put in long hours. The volume explains well the physical growth of the Internet, and parallels that account with a discussion of what caused the Internet's use to burgeon, including the use of email and convincing promotions of the Internet's practical applications. The final aspect considered here is the managerial one, as many different people had to collaborate, circulate memorandums, and hash out issues in order to figure out how the Internet was going to work, and the authors note how much of it was learned as the inventors went along. This effort closes by outlining the popularization of the Internet in the 1980s through the NSF, among others, and how the original Arpanet evolved into and was changed into something resembling what we have today. From a business perspective, many of the stories can be viewed as tales of missed opportunity, as AT&T first believed that the Internet would never work, and later had the chance to have a monopoly over the web and passed.

Hafner and Lyon present a good, easily accessible story, which can be well mined for lecture nuggets and anecdotes. It offers the answers to many questions which have probably perplexed most Internet users from time to time, including where the "@" sign in email addresses came from, and the original meaning of the word "hack". (It originally simply meant a good piece of programming, without the negative connotations it has today.) Scholars may be a bit disappointed here, as there are no footnotes and only a few general sources provided for each chapter. The volume also leans towards the more popular side in its accounts of events as well. One instance of that is its discussion of who built the Internet, because it notes, without comment or analysis, that nearly all the people who were instrumental in building the Net were males, and never explains what might cause this to be the case. It is also true that most of those men (if not all) were white and of European ancestry, but this point is never pursued nor even noted.

On the whole, though, this volume provides a engaging, if surface, tale of those wizards who stayed up late and originated the Internet.

Scott Merriman

University of Kentucky