One 1969 invention pivotal

Published 9:42 pm Monday, August 31, 2009

It was a pivotal year in modern American history. The year 1969 dawned with American soldiers still fighting in Vietnam, a counterculture movement with the potential to change society and technological advancements on the horizon that had been inconceivable just a few short years before.

By the end of the year, the world would see men walk on the moon; they would see the “peace-and-love” movement that had found its peak in a farmer’s field in Woodstock, N.Y., brought low by the violence at Altamont Speedway in California; they would see the first troops come home from the war in Southeast Asia.

Forty years later, America is no longer engaged in Vietnam, but the nation’s troops are, nonetheless, at war in far parts of the world. The hippie revolution finally gave way to the Me Generation, and love was replaced by greed for many of its followers. NASA put a dozen men on the moon, and then it retreated to Earth orbit for the next four decades.

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But at least one event in 1969 — however unremarkable it may have seemed to the world at the time — has completely changed the way the world works. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the first test of a simple network known as ARPANET, a UCLA project intended to allow engineers to communicate with each other via their computers.

As the years passed, ARPANET became the Internet. And the Internet truly has changed the way the world operates. Forty years later, we can be glad that bell-bottoms and Richard Nixon are both relegated to the ash heap of history. We can consider ourselves fortunate, though, that one other California export — the Internet — lives on.