Blog 5: Centrifugal internet

Blog 5: Centrifugal internet

Johnny Ryan’s A History of the Internet and the Digital Future definitely gives us a fresh perspective to the development of the internet compared to Blum’s narrative. A researcher and journalist, Ryan highlights the core concepts of the early internet and what makes it revolutionary.

In Phase 1, Ryan explains that the initial concept for packet switching did come from the need to build a communications system to withstand nuclear attack. The discussion then turns to the advent of communication between computers, which sprang from a group of graduate students who used a collaborative process to create the network.

A term that caught my attention was the “centrifugal”-ness of the internet. Upon a quick look-up on Google, centrifugal means fleeing from the center. In physics, centrifugal “force” is usually used to describe the inertia an object gains while circling a central point, which gives the object the tendency to fly outward rather than following the curve path. I use quotation marks around the term “force” because it is not a real force. The tendency for the object in movement to fly out of its orbit is due to the object’s inertia rather than an actual pull exerted onto the moving object.

Thinking about this “force” in terms of the internet, Ryan observes that the big idea in the internet is the absence of the central gravity. The internet was an idea invented to be decentralized with multiple nodes and links to form networks, and networks of networks. The absence of centralized control allows the networks to survive when come under attack. You can read more about Ryan’s explanation here.


Furthermore, this distributedness thrives on user-driven content creation and management such that no one authorized management governs the whole operation of the internet. On the flip side of the coin, this also means that every user of the internet has a stake on the security of the internet. I look forward to discussing this notion of user involvement in our class this week. For that, my questions are:

  • As thought experiment, imagine the internet as a centralized network; what would have been different compared to our internet culture today?
  • What’s the role of computer games in the history of history development?

Ryan, J. (2010). A history of the internet and the digital future. London, UK: Reaktion Books. [Phase 1: 1, 2, 3, 4]


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