for National Geographic News
Everyone surfing for last-minute Halloween costumes and pictures of black Lolcats today—what you might call the 40th anniversary of the Internet—can give thanks to the simple network message that started it all: "lo."
On October 29, 1969, that message became the first ever to travel between two computers connected via the ARPANET, the computer network that would become the Internet.
The truncated transmission traveled about 400 miles (643 kilometers) between the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Stanford Research Institute. (Watch video about the birth of the Internet.)
The electronic dispatch was supposed to be the word "login," but only the first two letters were successfully sent before the system crashed.
Still, that humble greeting marked the start of a phenomenon that has become such an important part of modern life that many experts argue access to it should be a right rather than a privilege.
In fact, earlier this month Finland became the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access a legal right for all of its 5.2 million citizens.
"I don't think it's quite on the level of food and water yet, but it's pretty close," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the Annenberg School for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California.
Created by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency, the original ARPANET was a network of just four computer terminals installed at universities and research institutions in California and Utah.
With its truncated missive 40 years ago today, ARPANET became the world's first operational packet-switching network.
"Packet-switching was the original transmission mechanism [for our network] in 1969 and is still the underlying technology of the Internet today," said Leonard Kleinrock, a UCLA computer engineer who was involved in ARPANET's creation.
In a packet-switched connection, a message from one computer is broken down into chunks, or packets, of data and sent through multiple routes to another computer.
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