Archive for May, 2007

The Internet Meets Coffee Houses?

Posted on: May 18th, 2007 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

There is long standing debate about “who invented the internet” Naturally, as one of the great inventions of our times there are many who would relish the tag of inventor.

I used to believe that Stanford University Networks was the original embryonic internet assisted by the development of TCP/IP, Xerox PARCS’ ethernet and the birth of the ‘small computer’ – The IBM PC.

Well in fact the original original internet was the conception of JCR Licklider of Massachusets Institute of Technology. His series of memos in 1962 described the possibility of a “Galactic Network”.

The first network borne out of his idea was part of a US Military Research Facility called DARPA. DARPA was created to enable the US to respond to a potential nuclear attack. The “internet” would allow uninterrupted inter-state control of technology systems in the event that one particular city was hit by the bomb.

All a little confusing, certainly heavy stuff!

Today, the internet is the pervasive technology we know and love. Next generation meeting places for people to do anything from chat to conduct business on a 24 hour, 7 day a week basis.

The leading edge developments on the internet like (now supported by the might of IBM) go a step further, taking virtual reality gaming technology (Sony Playstation 3, XBox, Wii etc) and using it to create a new virtual world. Take a look!

So what on earth is the link between the internet and coffee? Well slightly more than a tenuous one, once you look at them in the correct historical context.

Rewind to the early to mid 1600s. The coffee house culture developed out of the early imports of the drink to Britain. As a beverage, the spread of the drink was roughly equal across Europe.

The coffee house became the centre of urban culture .

These establishments were far more gritty and down to earth than the Star bucks and Costa coffee of today. Hard as it may be to imagine, they were also more ubiquitous than their modern day counterparts.

Each coffee house attracted regulars associated with a particular social theme – artists, intellectuals, businessmen and so on. Indeed as social forums they proved to be hotbeds, generating a significant sub-culture of creativity.

The common term ‘penny university’ became adopted as it was said you could learn more in a day at a coffee shop than in a month of reading. A penny was the price of a drink and a newspaper.

The most important aspect was the gathering of a social network. Many of these ‘themed’ houses went onto form an array of now long established gentlemen’s clubs that have survived to today and continued the tradition of matching the theme of their predecessor.

Since Plato’s defining work on society – The Republic – western civilisation has noted the need for censorship and as such, coffee houses were frowned upon by aspects of government as encouraging subversiveness and promoting destabilising influences on the establishment.

Aside from the doomed students in Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables, the over-riding historical account of these meeting places is more than positive: Edward Lloyd’s Coffee House on Lombard Street bore Lloyd’s of London and likewise Jonathan’s lead to the Bank of England.

The internet is without question the modern day virtual meeting place for exchange of knowledge, ideas, creativity and generation of business. It too, is also worryingly lacking structured censorship. Maybe this is a small price to pay for the ‘penny university’ of today.

It is perhaps apt then that some years ago the original public meeting place for those wishing to use the internet was in cafes, serving coffee. A romantic coming together in one house of creativity.