Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Internet Sign


The Internet. It enhances communication, enables global commerce, and has become an indispensable part of people's daily lives. The Internet disseminates information around the globe and helps bypass censorship in repressive regimes. It is a great force for good, and some have said, has resulted in the largest legal creation of wealth on the planet.

What commemorates the creation of the Internet? There is a plaque at Stanford University. And near a "No Parking" sign outside the former ARPA building in Arlington County, Virginia there is a sign.

The Internet Sign.

I refer to the sign as the Internet Sign to make its significance is more obvious, but more technically it is the ARPANET Sign.

The sign is near the corner of Oak St. and Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. It is not (yet) visible on Google Street View. The location of the sign is the old ARPA building. ARPA moved to the Wilson Boulevard location from the Pentagon, then as DARPA it moved to 3701 N. Fairfax Dr. DARPA recently moved again, still within Arlington County, to 675 N. Randolph Street.

The following text appears on the sign:

ARPANET
THE ARPANET, A PROJECT OF THE
ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY
OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE,
DEVELOPED THE TECHNOLOGY THAT
BECAME THE FOUNDATION FOR THE
INTERNET AT THIS SITE FROM 1970 TO
1975. ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO SUPPORT
MILITARY NEEDS, ARPANET TECHNOLOGY
WAS SOON APPLIED TO CIVILIAN USES,
ALLOWING INFORMATION TO BE RAPIDLY
AND WIDELY AVAILABLE. THE INTERNET,
AND SERVICES SUCH AS E-MAIL,
E-COMMERCE AND THE WORLDWIDEWEB,
CONTINUES TO GROW AS THE UNDER-
LYING TECHNOLOGIES EVOLVE. THE
INNOVATIONS INSPIRED BY THE
ARPANET HAVE PROVIDED GREAT
BENEFITS FOR SOCIETY.
ERECTED IN 2008 BY ARLINGTON COUNTY, VIRGINIA 

Below the main text is a smaller plaque with binary digits:

The binary (01000001 01010010 01010000 01000001 01001110 01000101 01010100) spells ARPANET in ASCII.

The Internet Sign wasn't actually erected in 2008; the unveiling ceremony happened in 2011. ARLnow has reasons for the delay:
According to Arlington spokeswoman Diana Sun, the county was unable to get permission from the building owner to put the sign on their property, so they had to go through a lengthy process of getting the sign installed in the public right-of-way (sidewalk). By the time all the pieces were in place, and by the time they could organize a small ceremony at a County Board meeting, it was 2011 — three years later than originally planned.

Which building owner that didn't want the sign on their property? A glance at Google maps will show the adjacent land is used by the US State Department. Why would the State Department refuse to commemorate a tool that has allowed uncensored information to reach the oppressed masses? I imagine security concerns about tourists congregating so close to a government building.

While I am sure the State Department's reasons for not hosting the Internet Sign are sound, the result is a rather sad commemoration. Surely there is a more tactful way to acknowledge the creation of the Internet than by a sign on the sidewalk.

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