IT for Dummies: What is the Internet?

It's almost impossible to imagine a life without Internet and 'to be connected' has become something quite fundamental in our everyday lives. It's pretty amazing when you take a second to think about it! We use Internet every day and it has become an essential part of our lives. But what is the Internet we all rely and depend on so much?

The Oxford Dictionaries' definition reads:

a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols.”

But what value does the Internet really have? After all, it’s not a tangible entity. We could say that the Internet is only as useful as the information people put on it. It’s bascially just an enormous collection of data. But without the real world and actual people doing actual things, there wouldn't be anything to put online. We definitely still need the real world with real scientists, artists and authors. We need actual creations that are built offline. Otherwise we would have nothing but opinion. The Internet can’t replace knowledge. It can’t learn either. All it does is store what we already know. It is a tool to share existing knowledge. You can compare the Internet to a wardrobe. A wardrobe is only of use when you own clothes to store in the wardrobe. To make these clothes, you will need a tailor.

Besides science and knowledge and hard facts, the Internet is also a place that people like to visit purely for entertainment purposes such as fun videos, pictures, memes, GIF's and to socialize with an online network through all kinds of Social Media platforms. Internet is a place to gain followers and popularity and to share success. 

In the beginning, well, there was nothing. Not even a bear-chasing dog or for cucumber-jumping cat video. And then came the Internet. It started slowly, and people initially used it only to search for limited information, but things quickly changed. Today’s Internet is a constantly evolving tool that contains a crazy amount of information. It’s astonishing what can be learned from just a few Google searches. It also connects people all over the planet, allowing them to interact and share knowledge like nothing we have ever known before.

And then of course there’s entertainment. The music and film industries are finally realising the power of the Internet. It became a benefit to have creations available to anyone at anytime. A piece of art could now potentially be seen by 3.2 billion people (the amount of people in the world with Internet access). That's incredible! It’s a level of exposure that every artist in the past could only dream about.

Right ok, but so how big is the Internet? Let's throw some crazy numbers around! The Internet is estimated to be a dazzling 1.2 zettabytes — and growing. A zettabyte is one trillion gigabytes. A dual layer Blu-ray disc (the industry standard) is 50gb. That means you’d need 24 billion Blu-ray discs to hold the entire content of the Internet. A Blu-ray disc is 12 cm wide, which makes its radius 6cm. Using the power of math (pr²), we get the surface area of a blu-ray to be 113.1cm². So the Internet is 24 billion times 113.1cm². This works out at 271 km² (168 miles²). Which means the Internet is about as big as Barbados.

And how exactly does the Internet work? The Internet is a network of computers, of which there are two main types:

Local Area Network (LAN): A LAN is two or more connected computers in close proximity, sharing data solely between themselves with a closed connection. It’s the kind of setup you might see in an office.

Wide Area Network (WAN): A WAN also consists of two or more computers, but they are further apart. The data is shared via telephone lines, fiber optics or satellite and the connection is open. The Internet is a WAN.

To work properly, these networks need a server. A server is a computer that runs software and stores information. It then shares this information with other computers that request it. Webpages are stored on servers, and when you type in a URL you are requesting information from a server. The server will give you access to this information and display it on the webpage. Your computer becomes the client in this exchange. Browsers (Chrome, Safari, FireFox) request the information from the server, then display it so that it makes sense to you.

WWW. or the Internet? Nowadays the terms Internet and World Wide Web are interchangeable. But they’re not technically the same thing. The Internet is a network of connected computers around the world. The World Wide Web is part of the Internet. It’s a virtual network of websites, all connected via links to each other. The World Wide Web was invented by a man named Tim Berners-Lee in 1989. There was an Internet before then and computers could communicate with each other remotely, but there were no web pages.

What Is the Internet built with? The World Wide Web is mostly a collection of files, all formatted as HTML documents. HTML contains links, text and images. All webpages are built with HTML files. Your browser will read the HTML, then it will display the webpage. You can see the HTML of a page very easily. Just right click on this page, then select Inspect or Inspect Element. What appears on the right are the foundations of the webpage – it’s all HTML. Behind the HTML are Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Javascript (JS). These files allow programmers to manipulate the HTML. The URL is the address of the webpage and get you to where you want to be. A URL is a Uniform Resource Locator, also known as a web address. This is how your browser knows where to look forthe page you wish to view. Not many people actually type out entire URL addresses anymore. Most websites are found via a link from another page or from a search engine. 

This is a great time to be alive. But with great power, comes great responsibility. The Internet is the greatest invention of humankind and some seek to control it. We need to keep the Internet free and open to all. And that’s something worth fighting for.

So to answer the question: What is the Internet? It is everything. And nothing. It has the power to unite the world, and the power to destroy it. The Internet is everything you want it to be. It is the world at your fingertips, knowledge, entertainment, social networking and an infinite collection of content from all over the world.

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