“From the emergence of the first browser through the boom of social media, this fascinating history reveals how the internet changed everything we thought we knew about technologies–and ourselves.”
That first sentence from the inside cover flap explains in broad strokes what How The Internet Happened: From Netscape to the iPhone is. But it is more than that.
What author Brian McCullough has created through the research interviews he shared as part of the Internet History Podcast, as well as the chapter interviews based loosely around outlines for the chapters in the book, is an incredible feat that literally stands on the shoulders of everyone he wrote about in this book.
It all started with a podcast, at least, the Internet History Podcast, hosted by Brian McCullough happened first. And podcasts don’t happen without the internet. Podcasts are on-demand radio listened to by an audience sometimes in browser, the origins of which are discussed in this book with Netscape and it’s historical IPO that marked the opening bell of the Internet Era, and on mobile devices, which is also a product of the Internet Era and all of these technical marvels becoming ubiquitous to people who didn’t know how it happened.
Seriously, from whatever the start of your own personal Internet era was, AOL, AIM, Prodigy, Gopher, IRC, ICQ, GeoCities, Myspace, Facebook, further back with Netscape and Mosaic, or more recently with Snapchat, no matter what your personal starting point was, the process from which the Internet went from something trivial or toyish to something we can’t live without is the part of this book that is most fascinating.
I’ve heard every episode of the Internet History Podcast and I’ve read every page of this book, and McCollough’s insight into the social import to everyday people of the technological changes and whims of the Internet Era are second to none.
Let’s start with the importance of the Netscape IPO. Many people could argue that it was the Mosaic Browser that started the Internet Era, or older still it could be argued that you have to go back to the origins of the ARPA funded network and it’s few nodes to see the true beginning, but that’s not what McCullough does and with good reason.
“There are occasionally events that signal the arrival of a new force in culture (say, the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show) or serve as the demarcation line between historical eras (September 11, 2001, for example). The Netscape IPO was just such a moment in time. Today, young twenty-somethings dream of coding their way to billion-dollar fortunes. Today, the phone in your pocket is more powerful than every computer involved in the moon landing. Today, it’s possible to know, in real time, what your high school crush had for lunch. Netscape set the groundwork for this reality. The Netscape IPO was the big bang that started the Internet Era. That picture of a barefoot Marc Andreessen on the cover of Time was what started young geeks dreaming of Silicon Valley riches. Netscape would not define the Internet Era–or even survive it–but it was the first of its kind, and in many ways, it was the template for all the people and companies that would follow.”
And what’s more “This is not a history of the Internet itself, but rather, a history of the Internet Era, that period of time from roughly 1992 through 2008 when computers and technology itself stopped being esoteric and started becoming vital and indispensable. It is about great technologies and disruptions and entrepreneurs. It is about how we allowed these technologies into our lives, and how these technologies changed us.”
The bottom line? From the Internet History Podcast to the printed pages of How the Internet Happened, Brian McCullough’s master class on the Internet Era is, in a word, brilliant. I will continue to tell anyone whom I think will be interested in the podcast about the Internet History Podcast, but I will probably tell even more people about the book. Not everyone is interested in listening to McCullough talk to members of the Netscape team or listening to long-form interviews, but they can all appreciate that the best bits, at least on a general level have all been included into the text of this book.
So go out and get yourself a copy of How the Internet Happened by Brian McCullough. Perhaps you’ll enjoy what you read so much you’ll want more, and as I type this there are over 180 episodes of “extra features,” with more on the way, that go along with the book waiting for you on your podcast app of choice.