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William Dockwra was indirectly responsible for the Internet!
Whilst searching newspaper archives I came across this rather nice introduction to a piece on the Government's e-envoy, which implies that the Industrial Revolution (and probably the Internet!) would never have happened without William Dockwra and his Penny Post:

The Guardian (London, England), Jan 13, 2003 p50

Media: New Media: Can we trust the e-envoy? (Guardian Media Pages)

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited

Byline: David Docherty

Have you ever heard of William Dockwra? No? Well, he helped change your life. In the middle of the 17th century, it was possible to send a letter to the Low Countries, but not from Old Street to Pudding Lane. In 1680 Dockwra, a local merchant, invented an early form of packet-switching to fill a gap in the market. Anyone wanting to send a letter left it in any of the hundreds of coffee shops (then hotbeds of intellectual activity, instead of froth centres), where it would be picked up on the hour every hour.

What's this got to do with new media? Well, think about it for a second. Dockwra's idea was weird. He was asking you to leave crucial love letters, business transactions, slander, ideas and inventions in a shop where, for a penny, it would be delivered by someone you had never met before who was paid by someone you didn't know. Dockwra had set up a trusted communications web and created a reliable network brand in the penny post. And without secure networked communication, would the nascent industrial revolution have happened as quickly?
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