A good many years ago, I was employed in a research lab as an engineer. I had a colleague who was a plasma physicist. We worked on the same projects together. At one point, in contravention of a great many regulations we managed, together, to buy a computer out of project funds. And after a good bit of time, we put Unix on it and got that to work. And we discovered UUCP. A little bit later, we discovered the ARPANET, and we could both instantly see the boon that networking would have for scientific research—the ability to do asynchronous collaboration by email, to share files, to share computer resources. And we talked about that a lot.
But my colleague had a different idea. He thought that everybody should have access to the network. He saw it as a way to distribute knowledge. As a way to encourage literacy and distribute information. As a way to elevate the human spirit. And we talked about that a lot, too.
But he did more than that. He believed in that vision. He resigned his post, cashed in his retirement, borrowed money from friends and family, and set up an Internet business. The business was designed to relieve the populace of the tedium of grocery shopping. The idea was either by telnet or FTP, you would get him a shopping list and he would go out and buy the groceries and have them delivered to your front door.
Of course, Internet penetration in those days was in the sub-percent level. And what there was was 300 baud dialup. Unsurprisingly, the business faltered and failed. My friend, at this point deeply in debt, dispirited but not disillusioned, and in poverty, tried to re-enter the workforce without great success. And a few years later he died.
I’m deeply honored by this award. I wish to dedicate my membership to my colleague and visionary friend Dr. Bruce [Henrickson?] of the US Army Ballistic Research Lab, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Thank you very much.
Stephen Wolff profile, Internet Hall of Fame 2013