My grandfather died in 1978, one month after I was born. He saw me exactly once, a few hours before dying in his sleep from the cancer he’d fought for almost a year. His dying wish was to see his namesake (me) so that he could, through me, touch the future he had worked his whole life to help build. (Grandfather was a chemist, with several patents to his name, many of which you may still be able to find in your home today.) Needless to say, I never knew him except through the stories that my mother has told me about him.
Months before his death, while sitting at his bedside in the hospital, my pregnant mother and he watched footage of the test flight of the prototype space shuttle, The Enterprise. My mother, a fan of science fiction (especially Star Trek), commented to my grandfather how marvelous the advances we’d made in the past few decade were in the field of space travel and asked if he thought I would live to travel among the stars as they did in Star Trek.
My grandfather, a career scientist, told her then that the advances of the next 100 years would not be in transportation, but in communication. The reason he knew this was because, even in 1978, my grandfather was among the few people in America who knew about the Internet in its infant form, ARPANET. Initially deployed across a network of just four routers in December of 1969, ARPANET had grown to nearly 200 routers by 1978, with new routers being added an average of every 20 days. (Click here to learn more about ARPANET.) He knew this, and knew where it was going, which is why he told my mother that, one day soon, she would be able to access all the books in the Library of Congress from the comfort of her living room.
At the time, my mother says she thought the idea pure fantasy.
Today, Wikipedia, along with the Internet, smartphones, tablets and personal computers, is the realization of my grandfather’s dream: The sum of all human knowledge, compiled and shared is free to every human being on the planet.
I have and always will contribute to Wikipedia and its mission to help the human race share all that it knows with each other and I hope everyone else will too.