It’s brilliant. But what is the internet?

Privacy news
6 mins
Pop art illustration of woman using laptop.

We use it every day and It’s become an absolutely essential part of our lives. But what actually is the Internet?

The dictionary defines it thusly:

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

But what value does it have? After all, it’s not a tangible entity.

The Internet is only as useful as the information people put on it. It’s just a collection of data. Without the real world and real people doing real things, there would be nothing to put online. The Internet does not create, it can only regurgitate.

We still need the real world: the real scientists, the real artists, the real authors. We need real creations, built offline. Or else we have nothing but opinion. The Internet can’t replace knowledge. It can’t even learn. All it can do is store what we already know.

The Internet is much like a wardrobe. It’s only useful when you have clothes. And to make clothes, we need a tailor.

Despite this, the Internet can be a place of wonder and bemusement. It’s packed full of tasty infonuggets, just waiting to be discovered. For instance…

What Does the Internet Weigh?

Using some very rough math, it’s been estimated that the Internet weighs about the same as a strawberry. Or a medium sized egg, if you’d rather.

internet evolution
People queue to use the Internet as a monkey watches on.

The Evolution of the Internet

In the beginning, there was nothing. Not even a single cat video.

And then came the Internet. It started slowly, and people initially used it only to search for limited information.

Things quickly changed. Today’s Internet is a vast and constantly evolving tool that contains a staggering 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.

There’s also the entertainment. The music and film industries are finally realizing the power of the Internet. It’s a benefit, not a hindrance to have your creations available to anyone, 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 is incredible. It’s a level of exposure every artist in the past could only dream about.

Great. But How Big Is the Internet?

The Internet is estimated to be 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 contents of the Internet.

A Blu-ray disc is 12 cm wide, which makes its radius 6cm. Using the power of math (πr²), 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.

How 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, Opera) request the information from the server, then display it in a fashion that makes sense to you.

Internet cat
Everyone shut up! Look at the cute cat! LOOK AT THE CUTE CAT!

But What If I Just Want to Watch Cat Videos?

No problem! 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. That’s 18,000 hours of video per hour, which is 432,000 hours per day. That means there is 49.31 years of video uploaded to Youtube — Every. Single. Day.

It’s estimated 15% of daily Internet traffic pertains to cats. Assuming YouTube follows this trend, 7.39 years worth of cat videos uploaded to YouTube every day. No one can watch that much cat.

The World Wide Web 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 a 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.

For example, you could set every title on your page to be forty pixels in the CSS. Now every time you enter a title in the HTML, it will be forty pixels high.

This would look like this:

HTML: <h1>This is a title!</h1>

CSS: h1 {font-size: 40px;}

url address
The URL is the address of the webpage.

URLs Get You to Where You Need to Be

A URL is a Uniform Resource Locator, also known as a web address. This is how your browser knows where to look to find the 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. URLs can be long and cumbersome and remembering them can be tough. Fortunately, search engines index the webpages so we don’t have to remember the URL.

But What Does This All Mean?

This is an age of math — big numbers and massive processing power.

The Internet is the driving force behind it because the Internet is big numbers and massive processing power. And it’s all displayed with beautiful graphics and cat videos.

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 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 and your portal to the stars.

The Internet is wonderful. And we’d like to keep it that way.

Featured image: studiostoks / Dollar Photo Club
Internet Evolution: riccardo1990 / Dollar Photo Club
Cat!: Alena Ozerova / Dollar Photo Club
URL: bakhtiarzein / Dollar Photo Club

Johnny 5 is the founding editor of the blog and writes about pressing technology issues. From important cat privacy stories to governments and corporations that overstep their boundaries, Johnny covers it all.