Share this...

Christine Haughney Dare-Bryan Talks About Her Father Vs. The Computer Freaks

NOTE: The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Larry: Christine Haughney Dare-Bryan, Editor at Large of Inc. Business Media. It’s great to have you and you know, when I read your bio, I realized that you and I have a lot in common. We both wrote for the New York Times. We’ve both been a broadcaster. You worked for MSNBC or NBC. I worked for CBS and CNN. So it’s nice to talk to a former colleague, I guess still a colleague in a way but we’re not talking about journalism.

We’re talking about the history of the internet. So Christine, you had an opportunity for a podcast you did for Inc, to speak with some of the pioneers of the internet, one of whom was your father. So, uh, I want to hear about all of them, but let’s start with your father. 

Christine: Yes, absolutely, and thank you. It is great to be here with you and to be with a colleague, Larry.

So it’s just a pleasure and a privilege. My father, Major Joseph Haughney was Network Manager for the ARPANET from 1979 through 1981. He was a military guy, Air Force guy, and he ran the project out of DC. Because it was really a DOD funded project at the time. 

Larry: Your dad used the term computer freaks, as I recall to refer to some of the people who were on the ARPANET at the time. And he also didn’t view the ARPANET or what became the internet in the same way that many of us look at it today in terms of something that the public can access. I remember during the nineties when it went from government and academia and industry only to people like me could join the internet.

Why did your dad feel that way? 

Christine: He seemed to have these fears and he spoke about this for many years. We always would joke, because my dad spoke about his fears of online harm and climate change, and we always laughed them off, like. 

Larry: Neither one of those is going to happen, right? 

Christine: What does he know? You know, he’s Dad.

And he had fears about the ARPANET getting into the wrong hands and being misused and fears of online harm that he was talking about, like in 1981. So the computer freaks are people who were getting onto his network and not using it for the purposes that it was intended for. But also he’s a craftsman.

And what I’ve loved about reporting on this is so many of the people who are the founders of the ARPANET they like building things. My dad likes building doll houses. My dad likes building ARPANETs and they feel this is a work of art that should be preserved. 

Larry: Well, obviously, since you and I as far as I know, at least in my case, don’t work for the military.

I’m not an academic. I don’t have a scientific job, yet you and I, at this very moment, are using the internet to have this conversation over a streaming service. So we can see the positives, but you know, specifically I guess, you know, with any technology, you could have said cars can only be driven by military personnel and we probably wouldn’t have as many car accidents as we have today. But of course, anybody now can own a car. I mean, where was the balance? Where should it have been? I mean, I don’t know if you and your dad had any opportunity to talk about that. 

Christine: It’s a great question.

Because I always thought of my father’s view as kind of like the strict dad, like no one’s getting on the internet, you know, you’re not creating a problem with that guy and no one’s getting on the internet. They were kind of conflated in my head, but actually talking to some of the founding fathers, they say we could have done things differently. So Bob Metcalfe says that we could have had less issues of anonymity. We could have addressed that. Len Kleinrock has also spoken to the fact that we could have done things differently from the beginning. Anonymity is the big one that kind of sticks out to me though.

Larry: Right, but of course, as you know, there are human rights activists around the world who would credit anonymity for the fact that they’re able to use the Internet for their work without risking or seriously risking their life. So even that has very positive implications along with the negativity that your father rightfully pointed out.

Christine: Yeah. I mean, that’s something that my father and I have basically sparred about our whole lives because I’m a believer in the First Amendment and a big believer in access to information as a journalist and social media has arguably been incredibly empowering for me. You know when you think of starting out at places like the Wall Street Journal where they call them the page one gods and they really dictated what the news was of the day and I could just go out and put something on Twitter that I had published and bring in a whole new following.

The internet has definitely benefited me as a female journalist in the time that we have lived. 

Larry: I remember the first day I launched my website and said, I have gone from being a journalist to a publisher. I mean, you know, nobody goes there, but I own it. I mean, I get, I don’t have to, you know, I don’t have a boss.

I don’t have to have these page one gods. Not that I ever got on page one. Well it appeared on page one of the business section of the LA times, but the point is that you and I can have our own platform online. It’s really quite life changing in many ways.

Christine: Absolutely. Yes. It’s incredibly life changing and entrepreneurial and that you can have, you know, more control. It really is a double edged sword in terms of the benefits of the internet, but then also the harm. I mean, a lot of my work at NBC news involved overseeing coverage of online harm that’s affecting children.

That’s affecting teenagers, you know, kids buying drugs on Snapchat and dying. Like the body image issues that are coming up, the cyber bullying, all of those issues did make me question just the internet we have today as a parent with young children. It is something that I am juggling like a full time job.

Larry: Your dad was way ahead of his time to be thinking about this in the early 80s.

Christine: Yes, he really was and he left in frustration. It’s amazing because since he moved out of his house I’ve also been cleaning out and selling his house and found these remarkable papers that he wrote in the fall of 81. Papers he wanted to draft for IEEE about just like the problems with the ARPANET and it’s aging infrastructure and like really calling out the computer freaks.

Larry: I remember 1981 cause that’s actually when I got my start in the computer industry. I wrote the manual, one of the manuals for IBM’s personal computer. And speaking of computer freaks, the guy who wrote the software was Captain Crunch. The person that AT&T put in prison for defrauding the phone company.

And then he came out and IBM, you know, hired him indirectly through a software company to write. It’s a word processing program. So there were plenty of computer freaks at the time, and I remember very much this notion that anything goes, that the online world is self healing in a sense that, yeah, you’re going to have people saying bad things, but then people will say good things.

And the antidote to bad speech is good speech and we’re still having those debates. Although I have to admit, as somebody who used to be a free speech purist I’ve softened my position a little bit and kind of feel good about moderators these days. And, you know, I think we do need a little bit of  moderation of at least hate speech and terrorism, child pornography, and things.

Christine: We did get an interview for this series with Jake Feindler. She’s one of the few female founding mothers of the internet. She created the first ARPANET phone book, which listed everyone who is in it. She was talking about this kind of bullying and threats that were happening in the early eighties in vivid detail.

So it was a problem from the beginning. A lot of what I heard in the reporting is like, oh, this is a late stage issue. This didn’t really happen until the invention of Facebook and Instagram, but it was happening. It was absolutely happening there and we have some of those interviews confirming. 

Larry: That and you’re probably more likely to hear that from a founding mother of the internet than a founding father because sadly women have been victimized.

I think more not that men aren’t potentially being victimized, but women have been and are continuing to be victimized by misogyny and other vicious kinds of things. So I’m, it doesn’t surprise me, that a woman would be the one to point that out. 

Christine: Yeah, and she, and it was actually, there were so few women on the ARPANET at the time that it was like, I have to say the anecdotes she shared with us were more like men bullying other men for different viewpoints.

One thing that I saw a lot in the reporting was that the belief was that they would treat this like an academic conference. And if you were a professor and I were a professor, we would not want to disparage each other because of the like, The professional harm it would cause us if we didn’t conduct ourselves in a, you know, an appropriate manner, but that thinking clearly does not extend to the billions of people on the internet today.

Larry: And even in the eighties, I remember writing an article about flame wars. I mean, we were beginning to see that certainly unused net and another early internet. Forums that existed back, I guess, probably near the beginning. I assume there were forums when your, when your dad was involved. 

Christine: I think the start of forums were happening and yes, Jake Feindler talked a lot about the flaming.

Larry: Well, you know, this is great. I really appreciate you taking the time and thank you so much. And thank your father, not only for the work that he did back then, but for encouraging you to share this with the rest of us, because this history is so important. I mean, we really need to know what was done right, what was done wrong, how we can learn from mistakes and grow and you know, and we’re not done.

I mean, you know, your dad’s work may be done, but the internet, we have a lot more work to do. 

Christine: Yes, and thank you so much for having me on. I’m very grateful.

Share this...