What Actually Is The Internet? Beginners Guide

Have you ever wondered how you would explain the internet to a complete newbie? Sounds crazy that somebody won’t know what the internet is, right? Millennials and Gen Z practically grew up with internet access and have seen it gain global acceptance. More and more people have access to and can afford Cox cable bundles. But there are still people who have never used the internet.  

From aging boomers to young adolescents getting their first internet privileges, the internet can be confusing. Especially if you only look at it from the pop-culture perspective. Read on to find out what the internet is and how you could explain it to a complete layperson.  

How it Began 

To put it in a nutshell, the internet was originally tech developed by scientists and the military/security apparatus. This was at a time when the USA and the USSR were in the midst of their notorious Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis is a great example of how high tensions were at the time. And just how real the risk of nuclear fallout was in that era.  

The internet originally began as a network of strategically placed computers with high-security clearances. It was a failsafe to allow the US government to continue to function and operate in case a nuke knocked out communication and caused widespread disruption (along with the catastrophic death toll). However, by the late 80s and early 90s, the internet began to spread to commercial and residential markets. Over the years, it has evolved (along with another tech) from slow dial-up connections to high-speed fiber and cable. And it has spread across the globe, unlike any other technology, increasing the momentum of globalization.  

The Information Superhighway 

The Information Superhighway is a euphemism used to describe the internet’s purpose. Everything we see on the web is all based on an exchange of information. Any interaction over the web using your computer or phone sends a request for information from your router to your provider’s server. That server then forwards your request to the relevant destination server. The destination server then responds with the necessary information, which travels back down the same route to your device.  

It may sound simple, but the scale of it is staggering. The entire exchange can take only a fraction of a second. Moreover, there are billions of devices owned by people, brands, and even governments sending and receiving these requests all day, all over the world. The sheer magnitude of the information flowing through the web earns it the moniker “Information Superhighway”. 

Peer to Peer Sharing and Piracy 

P2P sharing was one of the earliest everyday uses of the internet. Liked a song? You could download an MP3. Wanted a movie? You could download it over a torrent client. It was wonderful to have access to everything. The only problem was that in most cases, it was a form of copyright infringement. And the only reason it lasted so long was that most regulators had no way to deal with digital piracy. Over the decades since then, however, piracy has started dying out. And in its place, we now have P2P platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Spotify. These platforms are legal and only distribute content that they have a license for.  

Search Engines  

Search engines like Google and Yahoo are always a big part of any internet user’s life. They offer instant access to information. More importantly, they have been designed to rank and show you the most relevant information. Over the years, Google has emerged as the undisputed king of search engines, handling billions of queries each day. And it has opened up access, not just to blogs or images, but to brands and transactional opportunities as well.  

The Social Media Phenomenon 

Social media remains one of the most lasting things to emerge from the internet. Facebook is by far the best known, having outlasted even first-movers like MySpace and Orkut. Today, Facebook has acquired other platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram. At the same time, it has grown beyond the social interaction goals to accommodate brands, businesses, and advertisers. With billions of social media users all over the globe, these platforms are here to stay.  

Deeb Web vs Dark Web vs Shallow Web 

The internet, as most of us know it, is only a small part of the larger “deep web”. What we use daily is the “shallow web”. The shallow web is usually websites and web pages that search engines like Google have cataloged and indexed. Meaning, they exist within defined parameters. The deep web, however, is much larger.  

Of course, most of it consists of out-of-date defunct pages or sites that predate Google, Bing, and Yahoo. But the portion of the deep web known as the “Dark Web” is far more sinister. It is a place frequented by criminals like child pornographers, drug dealers, and even cybercriminals-for-hire. And even visiting it once can compromise your digital safety.   


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