Where Wizards Stay Up Late
The Origins of the Internet

Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
Simon and Schuster  1996  ISBN 0-684 81201-0 
$24.00  320 pages

Reviewed by John F. Barber

In the late 1960s the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) funded a research project designed to develop a way to connect different computers and foster point-to-point communications among its university-based researchers around the country. In 1969, the contract to build the most integral component of this envisioned computer network was awarded to a small Cambridge, MA consulting firm called Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN). Working around the clock, BBN developed a computerized switch, called an Interface Message Processor (IMP), designed to connect host computers at the four original research sites with the transcontinental telephone lines that formed the backbone of ARPA's network.

The ARPAnet was an immediate success and allowed resource sharing related to military research as intended. But, it was the desire for personal communication that powered the growth of the network through the next decade. Soon after its inauguration, the majority of ARPAnet traffic was personal email or ongoing listserv discussions. By the end of the 1980s, technological refinements and an incredible increase in non-military related traffic generated by a growing number of other computer networks connecting to ARPAnet prompted turning part of ARPAnet into a military network. The rest was merged with other networks to form what we now call the Internet, a world-wide collection of interconnected computer networks still used primarily for personal communications.

Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon's Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet is an account of this story. It is also provides little known behind the scenes facts and interesting anecdotes. For example, Hafner and Lyon tell how huge corporations like IBM, AT&T, and the U. S. Postal Service failed to see the potential of ARPAnet and its basic concept of packet switching and turned down opportunities to own the network as a monopoly service. Hafner and Lyon chronicle the origins of digital culture features like flaming, emoticons, the @sign, and discussion groups.

Where Wizards Stay Up Late tells the story of computer pioneers who invented the basis of a digital world which many of us consider every bit as fundamental as the earth, air, fire, and water basis of our real world.

External Links to Additional Resources

Simon and Schuster [http://www.simonsays.com] maintains an extensive series of WWW pages to promote its catalog of books. A search engine that allows author or title searches is available at the top page. Information provided about Simon and Schuster publications may include press releases, reviews, and other resource materials in associated WWW sites. For example, Where Wizards Stay up Late, [http://www.simonsays.com/titles/0684812010/index.html], the companion website for this book, provides links to information about the people who built the very first ARPA network, information about the hardware they designed and built, early maps of the ARPA network, and links to other resources associated with the origins of the Internet.

IMP pictures and information are available at this address: [http://www.simonsays.com/titles/0684812010/shop.html].

Early ARPAnet maps are available at this address: [http://www.simonsays.com/titles/0684812010/map.html].

Computer pioneers biographies and pictures are available at this address: [http://www.simonsays.com/titles/0684812010/pioneers.html].


Dr. John F. Barber

Department of Language and Communication
Northwestern State University
Natchitoches, LA 71497