Since time immemorial, humans have sought to connect their computers to exchange knowledge and to improve the mutual understanding of humankind. Of course, what they actually did with that was exchange porn, mostly.
A precursor to the computer networks was the telegraphy system, developed during the 19th century. It had many applications: apart from sending and receiving messages, you could buy and sell stocks, do money transfers, and other things that we think are so modern that we can do over the Internet nowadays. They didn’t have any need for an equivalent to Instagram, though, because back then all photos already looked vintage.
Computers were invented in the 40s, and they were so big and expensive that an entire University might have only one. To connect it to other computers, which could be thousands of miles away, they used telephone lines. As more computers were built and installed, new computer interconnect technologies had to be invented, because the computers kept calling each other and tying up the lines, and when the operators tried to get them to hang up they would complain: “but daaaad, I’m talking with Stacey, this is super important, you don’t understand me, I hate you.”
The Internet became popular in the 90s. People expected that an ubiquitous global computer network would serve to exchange knowledge and improve the mutual understanding of humankind. Of course, in the end this marvel of human engineering and international cooperation was used to exchange cat pictures and porn, mostly.
At the end of the 90s someone said in passing, “hey, in the 19th century they had wireless telegraphy, why don’t we have wireless networking now?”, and some electrical engineers were so embarrassed by it that they went and invented Wi-Fi and then pretended it had existed all along.
Nowadays, thanks to digital convergence, we treat everything as just data, so our usages of the different communications networks are very mixed up. For example, we connect to the Internet at home through cable TV, browse the web on our phones, do phone calls on our laptops and watch TV over the Internet. At this pace things will become more and more mixed up and we’ll eventually do weird stuff like listening to music on the radio. Time will tell.