Perhaps this isn’t the most obvious aspect in ‘the history of the Internet’ but it is something I found surprising when re-glancing over ‘The History of the Internet in a Nutshell’ (Chapman, 2009). I am talking about the history of the world’s first ever webcam, ‘The Trojan Room Coffee Pot’. It was created in 1991 in a computer lab at the University of Cambridge.
And the grand reason for this masterpiece creation? A single coffee machine was located in the corridor just beyond the door of the lab where 15 hard-working academics laboured away. Other academics had to walk down several flights of stairs to make it to the coffee machine, according to Quentin Stafford-Fraser, one of the academics at the time (1995).
Well apparently the stress was just too much to handle. People kept wasting their time waiting around for the coffee to be ready. Can you imagine the hassle?
So project ‘XCoffee’ was born. If you want all the nitty-gritty tech stuff, you can find it all here, on Quentin’s very own guest blog on the Cambridge website. The most important thing to note is that the early webcam was born; the machine “captured images of the pot every few seconds at various resolutions” which could be run (in grey scale) on all the academic’s computer screens (Stafford-Fraser, 1995).
Of course at the time, it wasn’t such a huge sensation. It did not get called a ‘breakthrough’ or gain much literary interest. But it did solve the problem of who should get up and check the coffee was ready. No one ever had to make an untimely trip to get coffee again! Hooray!
Daniel Gordon and Martyn Johnson then worked together to get project ‘XCoffee’ onto the Internet in November 1993 (Stafford-Fraser, 2001). People from all over the world tuned in to watch the coffee machine at work. Apparently this was entertaining at the time. Let’s not judge.
This meant that the first ever webcam was fashioned! And now we use them on everything from Facebook, Skype, Snapchat, MSN-Messenger… (Okay, maybe not on that anymore).
Who knew that being too lazy to wait for coffee could result in such a wonderful creation!
… Or was it? So many, myself included, now blame this creation and other creations like it for the lack of privacy online. This invention is one of many which contribute to the inability for us to ever not be tracked online.
Laptops now come with webcams built right in – and hackers know how to get them working without our permission. Most people know how to screenshot when maybe you don’t want to be ‘screenshotted’ when on webcam.
Think about it, without this invention, issues like revenge porn would not even be possible!
So was it a ‘wonderful creation’ after all? Maybe not. Let me know what you think!