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Momentum

Abstract

Despite the importance of the Internet in the modern world, many users and even policy makers don’t have a necessary historical or technical grasp of the technology behind it. In the spirit of addressing this issue, this thesis attempts to shed light on the historical, political, and technical context of TCP/IP. TCP/IP is the Internet Protocol Suite, a primary piece of Internet architecture with a well-documented history. After at technical overview, detailing the main function of TCP/IP, I examine aspects of the social and developmental record of this technology using STS theoretical approaches such as Hughesian systems theory, Social Construction of Technology (SCOT), and Langdon Winner’s brand of technological determinism. Key points in TCP/IP evolution, when viewed from an STS perspective, illuminate the varied reasons behind decisions and development of the technology. For example, as detailed in this paper, both technical and political motivations were behind the architectural politics built into TCP/IP in the 1970s, and similar motivations spurred the rejection of OSI protocols by Internet developers two decades later. Armed with resultant contextual understanding of previous TCP/IP developments, a few possible directions (both political and technical) in contemporary and future Internet development are then explored, such as the slow migration to IPv6 and the meaning of network neutrality.

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