Chandler Harrison ("Harry") Stevens is a name familiar to many who began their online lives back in the 1970s. The inventor of Participate, possibly the best of the computer conferencing systems ever developed (referenced here by Howard Rheingold in his book, Virtual Community), Stevens sent around a chapter of the memoir he's writing to friends last week. It's got so much good history - and so many familiar names - that I asked Harry if I could post it here. Enjoy this stroll down memory lane:
Today in 2008, blogs -- a word derived from "weblogs" on the Internet's World Wide Web -- support many-to-many communication within vast social networks such as Facebook, etc.
A decade ago in 1998, we completed developing a Web front-end and an Internet back-end for Participate, our then two-decades-old computer conferencing software, which went on to be used in Ukraine while I was in the Peace Corps (1999-2001; see http://co.net/). In 1993-1998, Participate had been used in developing CoNet community and NetCo educational networks -- funded by $1 million in grants from the National Science Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the US Department of Agriculture -- grants made to our CoNet Consortium, which consisted of the Austin Minnesota School System, Riverland Community College, University of Minnesota's Hormel Institute, and KSMQ Public Television. At that time, Participate was also being used by the largest distance learning organization, Phoenix University, among others, as licensed by Eventures Ltd.
Two decades ago in 1988, the World Wide Web did not yet exist, but in that year in Moscow I used a laptop computer to help prove that glasnost (meaning openness) was really happening. My impressions of the Soviet Union were typed into "USSR today"-- a blog-like branching topic within Participate, the most popular feature on The Source and CompuServe, forerunners to the Internet. My words typed in Moscow were seen worldwide instantaneously.
Three decades ago in 1978, LegiTech, the topic-branching forerunner to Participate (known also by its nickname, Parti) on EIES (Electronic Information Exchange System at the New Jersey Institute of Technology), was used by a dozen state legislatures, various federal labs and President Carter's White House librarian to exchange responses to about 1000 inquiries about such matters as how states might decommission nuclear power plants following the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in March 1979.
Four decades ago in 1968, while I was completing four years as the first independent in over 50 years to be elected to the Massachusetts legislature, nearby in Cambridge, Bolt, Beranek & Newman (BBN) was contracted by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the US Department of Defense to build the packet switching backbone of the original ARPANET -- forerunner to the Internet. BBN co-founder Dick Bolt, the chief scientist to investigate the infamous 18-minute Watergate tape gap, supported my unsuccessful run for Congress in 1968. Then seven years later in 1975 he became the first Visiting Scientist for the Massachusetts Legislature's Science Resource Network, as the forerunner to the interstate LegiTech, as mentioned above. LegiTech and the Massachusetts Legislature's Science Resource Network were developed with three of my ten grants that the National Science Foundation (NSF) made to Participation Systems Inc. (PSI) and to MIT, RPI & NJ IT during the 1970s.
Five decades ago in 1958, as a lieutenant in the Air Force at the Pentagon, I helped develop an early operating system and the Autocoder compiler of computer programs for use in a facility where giant IBM computers were burned to a crisp in a 1959 Pentagon fire, perhaps the worst damage done to the Pentagon prior to the terrorist attack of 9-11/2001. Prior to 1958, for a year I worked in data processing sales for IBM in Atlanta, after receiving my bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech. My Ph.D. in economics from MIT in 1967 preceded my 1968 congressional loss, after which I was offered an opportunity to work on developing ARPANET but instead went to Puerto Rico, where I served as science adviser to the governor there, as a representative of MIT. MIT had received substantial donations from Governor Ferre, following his success as CEO and founder of the Puerto Rican Cement Company, which helped build that island in the 40s and 50s. I placed on the governor's desk in 1969 a computer terminal networked to a citizen feedback system we developed and to socio-economic indicators he displayed on that computer terminal.
In retrospect, there are thousands of us who helped Al Gore "invent" the Internet -- including BBN's Dick Bolt, NJIT's Murray Turoff & Jim Whitescarver, LegiTech's Peter & Trudy Johnson-Lenz, Participate's George Reinhart & Mike Putch, PSI's Mike Keehan & Eric Williams, the Electronic Networking Association's Lisa [Kimball] Carlson & Ed Yarrish, Puerto Rico's Don Bartlett, Japan's Joichi Ito, Moscow's Sergei [lastname?], and Google's Larry Brilliant (whose Network Technologies International acquired my PSI firm in 1986) -- as well as more prominent Internet "inventors" like Vinton Cerf, with whom we visited in1984 at PSI in Massachusetts.
1984 was the year, which George Orwell's book by that title and the Apple Company's Macintosh computer "for the rest of us," helped make famous -- with competing visions, which I now call 2020 Visions of top-down versus bottom-up societal scenarios. In 1948, Orwell merely reversed the digits in '48 to look 36 years ahead to '84 or 1984 -- when we likewise started looking another 36 years ahead to see changes in networking for the year 2020.
Thus ends this introduction to this chapter about my particular 2020 vision within my memoir about the late '30s, the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and now the "aughts" -- which I guess is the way we pronounce this decade of the '00s. This chapter will focus on what we "ought" to do in decades of the "aughts" and the teens, the '00s and '10s, to help arrive at a saner and safer decade of the '20s, when my young grandson will also be in his 20s. This chapter is dedicated to him and his generation, whose visions of their futures and ours are key.