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Everything is impossible until it's not: January edition

What "vague but exciting" idea took over the world? This month, we look into the world wide web.


Everything is impossible — until it isn’t. At Strike, we’re looking back on disruptive moments that changed the world. From technology that has shaped our lives to feats of human strength and resilience that were never thought possible, every month we’ll bring you a moment in history that changed everything.

There are a lot of events that could qualify as “disruptive” moments in tech — we’ve looked at the invention of the iPod, the birth of the cult sensation Pong, and the humble VHS. But this January, we’re looking at the anniversary of what may have been the most disruptive moment of all — the weird, wonderful, world wide web itself.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment that we can call the “invention” of the world wide web, but looking at a fateful January 21 years ago comes pretty darn close. The technology that supported the web was being constructed through 1990, but January 1991 was the fateful moment when the servers outside of the CERN, where the tech was being built, were turned on — creating, well, a web. You don’t have to be a technology aficionado to appreciate the seismic shift this moment caused to not just an industry, but our entire way of life. Here’s how a proposal once labelled “vague but exciting” became an UN-backed human right.

"Vague but exciting"

Though ideas like the web had been floating around for some time, the web in the form that we know came from the mind of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer researcher working at CERN in Switzerland, who originally proposed the idea in 1989.

Like many of the best ideas, it brewed in the background and wasn’t jumped on right away. Although the idea of a web of its kind certainly sounds intriguing, it was also a huge conceptual leap away from anything that we had known before.

In fact, his manager put a note on the proposal's cover that, in hindsight, laughably underestimates the power of his idea: “vague but exciting”.

Most of us can’t wrap our heads around the mechanics that make the internet work, but Berners-Lee essentially had to come up with the multiple technologies that created the building blocks of the modern web — ideas that now have become a part of our everyday lexicon — the HTML, URI (which you might know as a URL), and HTTP. Sound familiar?

A human right

The technology came together through 1990, and in January 1991 the servers outside of CERN were activated — and the web appeared. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine that the internet that shapes our lives today wasn’t even around just over 20 years ago. But that's proof of just how quickly it spread, making its way into our homes and our lives.

While some technologies are hamstrung by affordability and logistics when trying to get into people’s homes, the web spread like wildfire as desktop computers became a staple of living rooms and offices. In fact, some estimates show that the web reached a quarter of American consumers in just 7 years

Today, life without the web feels almost unthinkable. Access to broadband and fast internet speeds have become commonplace in government manifestos and political promises in the UK and around the world.


In fact, in 2011, a UN report declared access to the internet a human right — and stated that disconnecting people from the internet was a human rights violation and in breach of international law. 

Because while, for some of us, the internet may consist of social media and cat memes, its reality is so much more. This is a testament to how crucial it has become to not only connecting friends and family, but to protecting freedom of opinion and expression, safeguarding civil liberties, and shaping the very fibre of our society.

In short, it’s come a very long way from a vague idea forming in the mind of a computer researcher only a couple of decades ago. 

We're always looking to dream bigger and find ways to make the impossible possible. Next month, we'll be back with another moment that changed everything.