What’s the Internet?
The summer holidays are around the corner and you may be looking forward to spending time using a computer- playing games online or just browsing the Internet. Why not find out more about this playground called the Internet?
As the name sort of shows, the Internet is a giant network. Now, what’s a network? Have you built something using Lego, where you join various pieces together to create something larger? The Internet is built the same way too-it consists of millions of computers connected together. That includes yours and mine too.
Another way of looking at it is to compare the Internet to a road network-the Internet is a really busy road system with bits of information zooming around, and being exchanged between computers.
What connects the Internet together?
The computers that make up the Internet are connected through networks that we call communication networks. At home, the wire that connects to the telephone also connects the home computer to the Internet. Offices have such wires too, except they are much fatter as many more computers need to be connected. There are connections without wires too through wireless networks but more on that later.
How does the Internet work?
The Internet is a vast storehouse of information as well as applications that enable you to buy stuff online, watch movies and even transfer money. The information and applications are stored on special computers called webservers. These webservers are also connected through communication networks so that other computers can reach out to them, connect and collect information.
When a computer or server is connected to the Internet and can be contacted by other computers, we say that it “online”.
How do these computers talk to each other?
You can understand what someone is saying only if you know the language they are speaking. Computers are no different. On the Internet, computers talk to each other using a language called TCP/IP. It’s a universal language that all computers can understand whether they are in India, China or Russia.
The amazing thing about the Internet is that computers can talk to each other easily across long distances. It’s just as simple to connect to a computer in far-away New Zealand as to one in Mumbai! And it costs just about the same. Distance is not an issue when it comes to the Internet.
What’s this about wireless?
You may have used a mobile phone to connect to the Internet. Now there is no wire connecting the mobile phone, is there? These devices connect through something called wireless networks.
The air around you is full of something called radio waves. Wireless networks use these radio waves to help devices ‘talk’ to each other. There are many kinds of wireless network technologies such as GSM, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. What’s common between all of them is that they are all wire-free.
What’s on the Internet?
Everything. Just about everything you need (and some you don’t). Information on the Internet is stored in websites. Think of websites as lily pads floating on the vast lake. You can visit any you like as long as you know the address, in this case the website address which is something like-www.abc.com.
Some websites just contain information-these could be online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia. Others help you do specific activities such as sending an email, booking a ticket or paying for something.
Some websites can be freely used by those who just know the website address. Others need special ‘log-in’ details such as a user identity and a password.
Just as you hang out with friends in the real world, the Internet helps people communicate in groups in the ‘virtual’ world. That happens through applications such as Facebook and Whatsapp.
Staying safe on the Internet (lets colour box this section)
During the summer holidays, you may be spending more time online. It’s important to stay safe on the Internet. Just as you take certain precautions in the real world (such as checking on both sides before crossing a road), you need safety rules for the Internet too. Here are some simple rules to get started.
- Check with your parents before you use websites like Facebook and YouTube- you need to be of a certain age before you use these websites
- Don’t share personal information like your name and address on the Internet
- The Internet allows you to chat with friends online. Chat and stay in touch with people you know as friends in the real world and don’t connect with strangers
- Don’t believe everything you read online. If you are researching for a school project, look for websites that are known for the correctness of the information they carry (such as https://www.britannica.com/)
- Certain websites may be harmful and may infect your computer with a ‘virus’. Make sure your computer has anti-virus software to fight those viruses before you go online
- Bullying can happen on the Internet too. If someone is being nasty to you online (such as for example by sending hateful messages and emails), let a parent or older person know.