Last week, at work, the Aarnet (Australian Academic Research Network) is mentioned. In my mind I slip away from the meeting and go back in time. To 1990, in fact, where I was witness to a remarkable episode of collaboration.
My then work colleague had done the unthinkable. He had talked management into connecting to the internet. But the only way to do so was through the Aarnet.
We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. The internet wasn’t the sexy World-Wide-Web as we know it now. The internet seemed to be like a fairly disorganised library. It was made up of e-mail, news groups, search tools and file servers, all great tools that worked separately but never together. That was to wait until the advent of the World Wide Web.
Some of us used email. My colleague used the search tools and file servers to find software. Everyone else used the news groups.
We could find out anything. We also could share anything too. But not just in our area of expertise, or interest or locality but internationally. This level of collaboration was best shown by an incident which could not happen now.
It wasn’t long after connecting to the internet that the first Gulf War began. We had the radio on to follow the latest updates. It was then we heard that Scud missiles were being fired at Israel. One work colleague spoke up and said he had a friend in Haifa. We became nervous as events might have escalated very seriously.
But on the news groups it was a different story. Iraqi students had no idea what was going on. They were asking questions. American and Israeli students were answering them. It didn’t matter that a war was going on.
That’s what happens when you give people the ability to collaborate.