A Debt Of Gratitude

A debt of gratitude to the creators of the web:

January 11, 1998

I have been surfing the web since October of 1995. I was surprised to find the text of an old letter preserved within one of our computers which spoke of this event:

Dear Paul and Dan,                           October 29,  1995

     Hello!  How are you?  Happy Halloween!  We are having a good
weekend.  For yesterday, the three of us experienced a historic
     We went up on the Internet!  Yes, our small computer connected
with computers all over the country and in the world.  What an
experience.  Our newspaper is available on line on a program
called StarNet.  This links to the internet, world wide web and
all that stuff.  You read a news article and below are
'footnotes' that  you can click on to read other related items.
Those are the items that originate all over the world.  We
were in Chicago, we were in Turkey, etc.!

Since that day, I have never learned who was directly responsible for the net's existence. I had vaguely assumed it was a group of people. But today I have 'met' Tim Berners-Lee:

"Berners-Lee graduated in 1976 with first-class honors in theoretical physics from the Queen's College at the University of Oxford. In 1980, after various software-writing jobs, he spent six months at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics near Geneva, where he designed a calendar program called Enquire to keep track of his own random associations; it later became the basis for the Web. He returned to CERN in 1984 as a software engineer.

The rest is ancient Web history. Berners-Lee wanted to create a means for far-flung researchers to share one another's data and work easily together. So, in 1990, he wrote specifications for HTML (hypertext markup language), HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) and the precursor of URL (uniform resource locator). . .

Berners-Lee and his CERN compatriot Robert Cailliau put the free Web software on the Internet in 1991. It didn't take off until 1993, when Marc Andreessen and his colleagues at the University of Illinois, who had seen one of the early Web browsers called ViolaWWW, wrote the now famous Mosaic. Between 1991 and 1994 the number of Web clients grew from about 10 to 100,000."

I discovered this information through following a series of links. Today's Starnet featured an article about the Unitarian Universalist church. At the bottom of the article was a link to the Boston based Unitarian Universalist Association's web site. That site had a link to the Scientific American article Molding the Web, December 1997, which profiled Berners - Lee. They proudly made this link for he discusses his identification with U. U. within the article:

"Berners-Lee says he had a Protestant upbringing but rejected literal Christianity as a teenager because it was incompatible with science. He now describes himself as a Unitarian Universalist. "It tackles the spiritual side of people's lives and of values and of the things you need to live your life, but it doesn't require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast," he says wryly."

The depth of the spirit of the man who now directs the World Wide Web Consortium, ( W3C), which insures cohesivity standards for the Web, is shown:

"No matter how many interviews the seemingly shy Berners-Lee agrees to, no matter how often he is asked to give a "vision" talk, no matter how hard he tries to speak slowly, there is a point at which the 42-year-old British physicist cannot contain his enthusiasm. In his world, the Web can empower people and transform society by allowing everyone self-expression and access to all information.

"The Web can help people to understand the way that others live and love and are human, to understand the humanity of people,"

Berners-Lee expounds, almost tripping over his words.

I cried when I read these words. The man whose vision has made this wondrous thing happen had in mind people like me: people who use the web to give all who care to come and read insights into the reality of their lives. It is part of what I hope we are communicating with our website as a whole. Many write us letters of how they have come to understand the beauty of their own humanity better. "Andrea Galla" wrote:

"Guided by whatever force I came upon your website. And something happened; something so long waited for. I came home. I read - and am still reading - the articles, the poems, the essays. I wonder where you were so long. But then again, there's a time and a reason for everything.

And I cried. Not sorry for that. But it's so astonishing, almost bewildering, an experience to see the pieces fall into place at last, to feel that deep, warm sense of recognition, to silence the urge for rationalization and defence and at the same time see a circle closing...like your rainbow did."

I owe such a debt of gratitude to Berners - Lee, Mark Andreessen and the others like them, who have worked to make just such comings together possible.

© Joan Ann Lansberry
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