Pop Quiz: Explain the Internet

Jul 7, 2011

pop quiz

Um… It’s where I Google stuff? It’s how I update my Facebook page? It’s where I buy music and books? It’s that thing Al Gore invented?

We live in the ethereal world of the Internet. More than 75 percent of U.S. adults are online, according the Pew Internet and American Life Project. For the average American household, Internet use (12 hours per week) is starting to rival television viewing (13 hours per week), according to Forrester.

But I’d wager that few among us really understand the basic principles behind the Internet. That’s not because we Americans are stupid. Rather, it’s because we’re really good at adapting to new technologies and incorporating them into our lives without understanding how they work. We just understand that they do work, which is good enough.

(This is rational behavior. Ask any economist, they’ll agree.)

But if you’re looking to gain a basic, cocktail-party-ready understanding of the Internet, we suggest starting with this handy guide from Business Insider (BI), which is bluntly titled “What the heck is the Internet?”

Here’s what you need to know about the Internet:

  • The Internet is an interconnected network. It’s a network of networks. The mother network, you might say.
  • BI: “In its simplest form, the Internet is a bunch of computers spread throughout the world that are connected to each other and swap information.” There are two basic computer types that make up the Internet: (1) servers, which store and serve information, and (2) clients (e.g. desktops, laptops, iPads, smartphones), which access the information stored on servers.
  • The World Wide Web, or web, is just one of several ‘layers’ of the Internet. Other layers include POP and IMAP, which govern the transmission of email across the Internet. The web layer, officially known as HTTP, was invented in the late 1980s by American Tim Berners-Lee. BI: “The web is all the pages that can be accessed using Web browsers [e.g. Explorer, Firefox].” Often used interchangeably, the Internet and the web aren’t the same thing. The web is a small slice of the larger Internet pie.
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