December 6, 2019
— What is the Internet?
Global communication is simple now thanks to a worldwide linked computer network that we call the Internet. In less than 21 years, the Internet has grown and expanded to link up to over 225 different nations. We are now at the stage where some of the world’s poorest developing nations are connected.
When you chat to somebody on the Net or send them an e-mail, do you wonder how many different computer systems you are transcending in the process? There’s the computer on your own desk, and of course another one at the other end where the other person is sitting. But in between your two machines, making communication between them possible, there are probably about a dozen other computers bridging the gap. This inter-network, combined computers, servers and networks, are called the Internet.
Lots of people use the word “Internet” to mean going online. Actually, it is nothing more than the basic computer network. Think of it like the telephone network or the network of highways that criss-cross the world. Telephones and highways are networks, just like the Internet. The things you say on the telephone and the traffic that travels down roads run on “top” of the basic network. In much the same way, things like the World Wide Web (the information pages we can browse online), instant messaging chat programs, MP3 music downloading, and file sharing are all things that run on top of the basic computer network that we call the Internet.
The Net is a collection of standalone computers all loosely linked together, mostly using the telephone network. The connections between the computers are a mixture of old-fashioned copper cables, fiber-optic cables, wireless radio connections, and satellite links.
How big is the internet?
One measure is the amount of data that passes through it: about five exabytes per day. That’s equal to 40,000 two-hour standard definition movies per second.
It takes some wiring up. Hundreds of thousands of miles of cables criss-cross countries. More are laid along sea floors to connect islands and continents. About 300 submarine cables, the deep-sea variant only as thick as a garden hose, underpin the modern internet. Most are bundles of hair-thin fibre optics that carry data at the speed of light.
How many people are online?
It means people are not assumed to use the internet simply because they live in a town with an internet cable or nearby wifi. By this yardstick, some 4 billion people, or 50% of the global population, were online by the end of 2019.
Fixed-line internet connections are expensive in developing countries, so most people connect through their mobile phones. The trend leads to a two-tier experience of the internet that is hidden by growth figures. What can be done on a mobile phone is a fraction of what can be achieved with a desktop, laptop or tablet. Anyone who has tried to file their tax return on their mobile will know.
Social impact of the Internet
On one side, people argue that the Internet has increased the risk of isolation, alienation and withdrawal from society. Pointing to increases in an emotional response called FOMO, or the fear of missing out. On the other side, people believe the Internet to have had the opposite effect on society. Arguing that the Internet increases civic engagement, sociability and the intensity of relationships.
Whether the impacts are good or bad, the Internet has changed the way society interacts and connects. An example of change is the increased focus on personal growth and a decline in a community that is determined by work, family and space. People are now constructing social relationships based on individual interests, projects and values. Communities are being formed by like-minded individuals. Not only offline and in person, but through the Internet and the multitude of online environments which it creates and offers. Social networking sites — like Facebook and LinkedIn — have become the preferred platforms for both businesses and individuals looking to perform all kinds of tasks and communicate with others.