Monday, September 12, 2011

The Web Turns 20

In the summer of 1991, Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN (the same group who just built the Super Collider) unveiled to his colleagues a system for organizing information on the Internet. He called his invention the World Wide Web. A few months later here in the US at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, the first graphical interface or web browser called Mosaic was unveiled. Over the twenty years since these announcements the World Wide Web has become integrated into just about every aspect of daily life. The web and browsers like Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox are used by pre-schoolers and Ph.D scholars alike.

It is hard for most of us to remember a world without the web. Just the other day I had occasion to use the web for a most mundane task but with results that are nothing short of mind boggling. My wife reported that our clothes dryer had stopped working and that she found a small piece of metal in the drum. I recognized the broken piece as part of the small spring-loaded safety switch that turns the dryer off when the door is opened. Loosening a couple of screws allowed me to remove the switch and the remaining portion of the broken piece of metal. In the past I would have spent a lot of time calling around to find this 50 cent part since I am way too cheap to call a repair person for such a simple fix. The problem was that I didn’t even know what to call it, let alone the part number.

After finding the model number of the dryer, I entered it into Google and sure enough, within seconds there appeared a diagram of my Whirlpool Dryer Model LE8650XWWO. After a quick review of the diagram I found the switch and the small piece of metal that was now identified as “Dryer Door Switch Actuator Spring/Lever – Part Number PS383733.” Right on that same page was the “Add to Shopping Cart” icon. So in a matter of a few minutes I found the part and ordered it sent via priority mail to my house. Even in the best of circumstances, before introduction of the web, I would have needed to spend hours just finding the part.

For sure my experience is not, as they say, “rocket science,” but that is exactly the point. The web has transformed how we shop, how we play, how we learn, how we work and even how we think. With information simple and sublime being added to our collective inventory of knowledge at an almost exponential rate, the only way we can hope to keep track of it all is with digital tools like the World Wide Web.

The web is not even old enough to order a cold beer but I bet you can find out how to make some in less than a minute.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home