The Planted Row: It all started with a short cable

Stan Wise
Farm Forum Editor

Fifty years ago a quiet event sparked a revolution that is still transforming our planet.

On Sept. 2, 1969, researchers passed test data between two computers connected by a 15-foot cable at the University of California, Los Angeles.

It was the first breath of what we now know as the internet.

This simple concept — letting computers communicate with each other from a distance — joins the ranks of gunpowder, the steam engine, electricity, the internal combustion engine and powered flight as one of the most transformative technologies in history.

The internet has changed the nature of life in the modern world. Most of the world’s knowledge is now accessible almost instantaneously via pretty much any computer, including those most of us now carry in our pockets. Because of this, we no longer need so many tools considered indispensable just a few decades ago. How many people need a phone book or a road map anymore? How many people need encyclopedias or access to a reference library?

We no longer require brick-and-mortar stores to purchase many things we need. We can use our smartphone or home computer to order clothes, electronics and even groceries online. For most businesses to be considered legitimate, they need an online presence offering at least basic info about hours and services.

My own industry is struggling to come to grips with the fact that fewer and fewer people are reading printed newspapers. Any newsworthy event around the globe is available to us in minutes via the internet, and almost every news outlet has a presence online.

We have constant access to market prices so we know just when to sell our crops. We can take online courses to increase our skillset and further our career prospects.

We have access to a near infinite variety of entertainment any time of the day or night. We can keep track of our friends’ lives and communicate with any person who has access to the internet. Why write letters to a pen pal when you can chat about your favorite subjects with people across the globe in real time?

Anyone online can have a voice and potentially reach billions of people with their message. Internet celebrities can earn just as much money as their Hollywood counterparts.

Computers in our tractors talk with computers in satellites to make our rows straight and seeding rates precise. Computers in our cars communicate with computers in space to help us find the fastest routes to our destinations and give us access to just about any music or commentary we wish.

There are many, many more ways the internet has changed our lives.

For better or worse, we are now connected much more closely with one another, and information is distributed much more freely. Though I’m uncertain if this has made us any happier, it has given us opportunities we did not have before.

It is only fair, then, that everyone should be able to take advantage of those opportunities.

Rural communities without access to high-speed internet service are quickly realizing they are at a disadvantage. Local businesses and residents need be online to prosper.

State and federal politicians are working to help connect all of our communities, and they deserve our support in those efforts. Access to the internet is as important now as access to the electrical grid was in the early 20th century.

We can’t ask some of our citizens to remain in the past while the rest of us move into the future. Everyone deserves to be a part of this revolution that started with just a short cable.