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The Column: Dear internet, you had me at 'lo'

The internet is 50 years old.


Yes, it was in the autumn of 1969 that UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock and graduate student Charley Kline tried to send a message on the ARPANET, forerunner of the World Wide Web, to a computer at Stanford University.

The bold pioneers intended to type “login,” but — are we surprised? — the system crashed after “lo” and it took an hour before things got squared away.

A half-century later, that little “lo” would have been immediately understood, though not as Kleinrock and his assistant intended.

In the world of truncated millennial communication the two letters are understood as a cheery greeting — the SlimFast version of “hello.”


“Oh, lo! Whaddup?”

At last, the UCLA message went through — “login” — and the rest is history.


In the Information Age, is there such a thing — are we able to live beyond the tweet or Instagram update? Is there anything other than the moment?

Oops, you’re thinking, here comes another golden age lament for the good old days. Turn the channel.

Not happening. Promise.

(Good old days, my eye, by the way: Are we really nostalgic for polio, asbestos siding and itchy underwear? Come on, sentimentalists, get a grip.)

Still, the internet — and all the bewildering stuff that goes with it — is a weirdly mixed bag of blessings and bupkus, don’t you think?

Advantages are obvious.

Doctors save lives with instant exchange of patient information. Small businesses get a boost once unimaginable. Online college courses open the world to folks who otherwise might miss out. Research possibilities are breathtaking and endless. Even the most obscure academic papers on, oh, asteroid collisions or historical linguistics are a couple keystrokes away.

Less urgent, of course, is the ability to track down that old college sweetheart who, foolish, foolish girl, opted for the football star and — ha! — broke up in a couple of months. Or check the starting lineup for the Brooklyn Dodgers on Opening Day 1955 (Junior Gilliam in the leadoff spot; Gil Hodges batting cleanup) or order moth traps for overnight delivery or learn how to stop your smoke alarm from chirping even after you’ve replaced the battery.

And then come the cutesy cat videos, loopy games (“Find the Invisible Cow”) and a shopping website, called “Shut up and take my money,” dedicated to useless items like a gummy bear night-light, pet chicken harness or a baby blanket that resembles a flour tortilla.

Even considering the silliest of stuff, I don’t want to turn back the clock — digital or analog.

But we can identify, I think, with the fellow who recently came to shut off the sprinkler system, yanked out an electronic tablet to tally the bill and, scrunching his nose, said, merely, “Technology. Everywhere.”

It’s true.

At the polling place earlier this month, we had to register on a screen and, for better or worse, our ballots were tallied electronically, too. I got a text telling me the doctor had renewed my allergy medicine. By email, the library says the DVD I borrowed is due in three days.

Sometimes you can feel sort of overpowered by the genius of it all — the brilliance of those inscrutable programming codes wiggling through printed circuits and into your desktop until, blink, there it is on the screen, an improved recipe for banana bread (microwave the bananas first) or the name of Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president (Hannibal Hamlin).

It’s not so much that you can feel humbled by the technology, but, I don’t know, sort of … irrelevant.

How can there be people smart enough to invent something like the internet and here I am buffaloed by trying to select an aisle seat on the airline website or worrying that I might have signed over my bank account to a scammer by tapping on an unexplained email photo of Madrid.

Everything is so quick and immediate. We’re huffing and puffing in an endless loop of what’s next? Makes you want to take a breath, spend an extra moment or two, read a book (hard copy), pace the floor, take a nap.

Nobody’s doubting the wonders of the web or its progress after that slow start at UCLA.   For sure, there are more miracles to come. Log in, everyone, and buckle up. Let’s just hope there are plenty of rest stops on the Information Highway and that we take time to greet one another with a friendly, full-length, “hello.”

CORRECTION The Bridgeport (Connecticut) Bluefish minor league baseball team now plays in North Carolina as the High Point Rockers. An Act 2 column on Nov. 10 failed to note the franchise had relocated.

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