3 min read

Understand what the Internet is in less than 5 minutes🤓

Ibrahim Alausa

What some of us think the Internet is

For most of us today, everything we do revolves around the Internet. However, only very few people know what the Internet is (I used to be one of those guys). Some people think the Internet is some invincible thing that hangs on everyone's roof or waves passing above our heads.

NO photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I was learning about this topic, I found a lot of interesting articles that eventually got too technical for a non-tech person. I will try my best here to explain what the Internet is on a very high level to ensure that we can all describe the Internet to anyone. Let's move.🚀

The early days of the Internet

To understand that the Internet is not some black hole that's complex for everyone to understand, let's understand it's origin.

I have tried my best to highlight the essential things we need to know about the origin of the Internet. If you need more in-depth history on this topic, please check it out here.

  • In 1969, the first form of connection we would refer to as the Internet today began with Advanced Research Projects Agency Network(ARPANET). Its major objective was to link computers of scientists and engineers at different locations for information exchange without losing any data.
  • To test this network they had just created, only 2 computers were involved. ARPANET delivered its first message ("Login") from the first computer to be displayed on the other. The second computer however only received the first two letters (“Lo”). Funny when you think about it today, but this was a major breakthrough then.

Photo of 1969 Internet

We can use this image to illustrate what the Internet looked like back in 1969

  • By the end of 1969, 4 computers were connected to make up ARPANET (This was the whole Internet at that time).
  • Fast forward to 2020. As of January 2020, guess how many people are connected? Almost 4.54 billion people. Just take a deep breath and think about it. From 2 computers to 4.45 billion.

NO photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

important note:

Notice I didn’t say, the first two computers were connected to the Internet. I said these first two computers made up the Internet. We can instantly realize that the Internet is a network of connected computers worldwide.

Photo of 2020 Internet

This is what the Internet looks like in 2020 with billions of computers

How computers connect worldwide

We may still be wondering how our computers connect with other computers worldwide to form the structure illustrated in the diagram above.🤔

Internet Service Provider (ISP) to the Rescue

That’s where our Internet Service Providers come in. We don’t need to bother ourselves about connecting wires from our houses to India, France, etc to access information from computer systems located in those countries. Different Internet Service Providers in different countries (e.g MTN and GLO in Nigeria) have the infrastructure to handle the connection. All we need to do is connect to these other computers across countries indirectly through our ISP. The structure looks something like the diagram below 👇

Photo of computers-ISP connection

With this connection through our ISP,we now have access to each other's information

Try to imagine several billion connections like this across countries. That is what forms the network we call the Internet.

It's a Wrap

Thanks for making it this far. I appreciate it. I know a lot of technical people will read this and notice I left out low level technical details like protocols, switch etc. Well, that's exactly the point of this article. Anyone should be able to read it and have the basic idea behind what the Internet is. Now you can go out there and dig deeper with thousands of other resources that explain these things without getting confused.

The major points I need you to remember when trying to describe the Internet are

  • It’s just a network of computers connected with other computers across the world.
  • When you and I need to connect to this network of computers (Internet), we do that indirectly through our Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Please reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter for questions, comments, and feedback. I would love to hear and learn from you too.

Keep learning 💪🏿.