The Internet, like most world-changing inventions, came to life in a series of fits and starts. The thing that allows you to read these words, on this screen, right at this moment, is the result of multiple innovations and experiments on the part of multiple collaborations of multiple nerds. But one of the first collaborations—the one that is generally regarded as the collaboration that created the Internet as we know it—took place 45 years ago, on October 29, 1969.

On that day, the computer programming student Charley Kline hunched over an SDS Sigma 7 Host computer in Room 3420 of UCLA's Boelter Hall. His goal: to send a message to a computer 400 miles north of Los Angeles, at the Stanford Research Institute. Early computers being what they were, there would be no room for epic messages in the "what hath God wrought" vein; the message Kline wanted to send was simply a straightforward command to the Stanford computer: login.

At 9:00 in the evening, Kline began typing the communication that would allow, for the first time, computers to talk to each other. He got as far as the L and the O ... and then, as he was trying to enter the G, the system crashed. Which meant that a kind of accidental epicness had been achieved by way of a finicky computer: The first word typed on the Internet was "lo."

Kline waited for the system to reboot—a process that took, back then, an hour—and then, at 10:30, he began again. With L. And then with the O and the G and the I and the N. This second transmission attempt was successful. Kline had, from UCLA, logged in to the host computer at Stanford. The ARPANET—the infrastructural foundation of the Internet—was born. With, if not a bang or a whimper, a crash and a reboot. And with, appropriately, an LOL.