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.

Further Reference

Stephen Wolff profile, Internet Hall of Fame 2013


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