For most people, the Internet is the place where everyone connects to their computer and looks at websites and sends e-mails. This is a very human viewpoint, but if we really want to understand the Internet, we need to be more specific:
The Internet is THE large global computer network with which people connect by default because it is the largest. And like any computer network, there are conventions that make it work.
That’s all it really is – a very large computer network. However, this article will not only explain the Internet, but also the World Wide Web. Most people don’t know the difference between the Internet and the Web, but it’s actually quite simple: the Internet is a computer network, and the Web is a system of publishing (websites) for it.
And what is a computer network? A computer network is made up of only two or more computers so that they can send messages to each other. In larger networks, computers are interconnected in complex arrangements, with some intercomputers having more than one connection to other computers, so that each computer can reach every other computer in the network via paths through some of those intercomputers.
Computers are not the only things that use networks – road and rail networks are very similar to computer networks, only these networks transport people instead of information.
Trains on a rail network run on a certain type of route – such a convention is necessary because otherwise the network could not function effectively. Similarly, the roads are designed to be suitable for vehicles that conform to a kind of pattern – robust vehicles of a certain size range that travel at a certain reasonable speed range. Computers in a network also have conventions, and we usually call these conventions “protocols”.
There are many types of popular computer network today. By far the most conventional is the so-called “Ethernet” network, which physically connects computers in homes, schools and offices. However, WiFi is becoming increasingly popular for connecting devices so that no cables are needed.
Connecting to the Internet
When you connect to the Internet, you use network technology, but things are usually much cloudier. There is an apt phrase: “Rome wasn’t built in a day” because the Internet wasn’t either. The only reason why the Internet could be created so quickly and cheaply for people was because there was another kind of network already around the world – the telephone network!
The pre-existence of the telephone network offered a medium by which ordinary computers in the homes of ordinary people could be connected to the great high-tech military and research network that had been developed in previous years. It required only a certain technological mastery in the form of “modems”. Modems make it possible to transform telephone lines into a mini network connection between a home and a special company (an “ISP”) already connected to the Internet. It is like a bridge connecting the road networks on an island and the mainland – the road networks become a single one through a special type of connection between them.
The really amazing thing about the Internet is not the technology. We have had large Internet-like computer networks before, and “The Internet” existed long before ordinary people knew the term. The amazing thing is that such a massive computer network could exist without being built or governed in any seriously organized way. The only organization that really has the Internet’s central computer network under control is a US government-backed non-profit corporation called “ICANN,” but no one could claim to have “controlled” the Internet because its mandate and activities are extremely limited.
The Internet is a testimony both to the way technologists have worked together and to the way entrepreneurs have taken on the task of using technologists’ conventions to connect ordinary people and businesses. The Internet did not evolve on the Microsoft Windows operating system – the Internet technology was based on much older