“Digital Archeologists,” specializing in prehistoric information conveyance, will agree that Johannes Gutenberg, Benjamin Franklin, and Richard Warren Sears contributions gave rise to the modern-day information highway. Underlying their intellectual gifts, they shared a rebellious spirit combined with unwavering determination. All of these men believed in spreading knowledge to the masses, which is the principle foundation of the internet. Before Silicon Valley there was Germany, Pennsylvania, and Chicago.
Johannes Gutenberg 1395-1468 (Literacy)
Before the invention of the printing press in 1440, books were written and copied by hand, making them extremely expensive. Many did not consider that a problem since they could not read, depending on the Church clergy for news and guidance. Gutenberg’s invention not only made books abundant, spreading knowledge but also boosted literacy. People started to want to learn how to read, discovering information for themselves.
Martin Luther inspired the concept, asked why do people need a priest when they can educate themselves about religion. That gave rise to the Protestant Reformation – the foundation of our modern democracy.
Benjamin Franklin (Transmission)
Electricity fundamentally connects the internet together, transmitting messages, broken down into binary bits, from one point to another. Moreover, it powers everything on the information highway. Although Benjamin Franklin didn’t “discover” electricity, he helped defined it, which led to useful applications. After his famous Kite experiment in 1752, he invented the lightning rod. Based on his understanding of how current flows, he attached the lightning rod, in his home, to a system of bells that rang each time lightning struck. Moreover, the light from the sparks illuminated the house, albeit in a flickering manner.
Later, in 1872, Samuel Morse, took the concept one step further, inventing the telegraph. Although there were other similar devices, Morse’s one was the first to transmit in binary (Morse code): long and short pulses in sequences that represented letters: connected made words. Back in the day, it made long distance communication affordable and timely, revolutionizing information flow like the internet did in the 1990’s.
Richard Warren Sears (Monetization)
The Sear’s Catalog, first published in 1888, is the precursor to Amazon and every other online store. The concept started in 1886 when Richard Warren Sears, working as a telegraph operator for Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway, bought a lot of watches, rejected by a local jeweler. He transmitted to the other stations offering the watches for sale, immediately selling them for a handsome profit.
Using the profit from the watch business, he started to publish a catalog which he sent up and down the rail lines, offering a variety of goods, needed in rural America. Eventually the Sears Catalog, became the primary shopping resource for most American’s in the early to mid 20th century, or “Wishbook” even sold houses. Sears, at one time, was America’s largest retailer and one of the largest company’s in the world, building the infamous Sear’s Tower in Chicago.
The Internet did not spontaneously emerge from Northern California but rather evolved over the past 700 years and perhaps longer when one considers the “Roman Roads” and the Silk Route. Moreover, much of the Internet automated existing processes rather than inventing new ones altogether. Those processes and concepts had to be discovered before the information superhighway could be realized. It started in Germany, before Columbus arrived, as a means to spread knowledge, leading to a boom in literacy. Later it started to take shape in America and Europe, building on not only the previous technologies but also concepts (commerce, free speech, etc.). Therefore, no one American state (California) can take credit for all of the technological advancements.