The Internet is so High School

The Internet is so High School

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The Internet. Everyone these days is using it. But what is it really? Listen, if you only walk away with one thing today, let it be this -- the internet is not a cloud, it’s a wire. Remember when you were a kid and you and your friends hooked up three Xboxes and had the best night of your lives? That’s a more accurate representation of the internet than a cloud. If you don’t have memories of Xboxes because you had, you know, a social life, we can work with that, too.

Alright, so you’re in class and you forgot your pen. So you write a note “Need pen from Office Depot” and hand it to the teacher’s pet, Router. Router’s only skill is knowing everyone in this room. He writes your student ID and his student ID on the note (Uh, what? We’ll come back to this), then hands it to his hall monitor, Modem. Modem rewrites the note in cursive - because some hallways are old-fashioned - then carries it all the way to the prom queen, ISP (Internet Service Provider ..or Isabelle Samantha Phillips, if you’d prefer). Prom Queen ISP either knows where everything is outside the school or knows who to ask. She takes your note and heads outside to the big wide world of the internet.

Now Queen Isabelle has to figure out how to get to “Office Depot”. She’s never been there before, so she visits her buddy at the library, DNS (Domain Name Server ..or Donald Neeman Smith, if you’d prefer) because he knows the address of every place in town. With address in hand, she gets to Office Depot and hands an associate your note. After rummaging in the back, this associate gives Isabelle a pen. Hooray! We have the pen! Are you still with me? Now we have to get the pen back to you.

Remember that weird part where Router McWeirdo-Face wrote both your student ID and his on the note? That was for Queen ISP in this moment. She takes the pen and delivers it to the Router’s student ID (passing it through Modem again) and her job is done. How does Router know where to deliver the pen? Why, your student ID which he wrote on the note, of course! And now you finally have your pen.

So let’s get our terminology straight, cause that was quite a journey. The pen is a webpage, Office Depot is the URL of that webpage (http://www.officedepot.com), the teacher’s pet is a router (the box with multiple ethernet ports), the hall monitor is a modem (the box you plug your cable into), the prom queen is your ISP such as Comcast or Verizon, the library is a DNS Server, Office Depot’s address is the website’s IP address, and the Office Depot associate is computer on which the website is stored. So simply typing “boredpanda.com” and hitting Go initiates a not-so-simple series of tasks that crosses miles of wires in mere seconds.

And because computers aren’t humans (spoiler alert), often seemingly simpler things are actually more complicated. Let’s say you wanted to pass a note to your friend about your sweet new pen. You don’t pass it directly to her. You pass it through Router, Modem, ISP, DNS, and a couple other things until it lands in your friend’s mailbox. Then she must run through the same routine just to check for new messages before she gets the “bzz bzz” we all know so well. And all this happens whether she’s on the other side of the planet or even sitting right next to you. So you think everything’s just between you two, but it’s really a “Ronald would like me to tell you that Seamus told him that Dean was told by Parvarti that Hagrid's looking for you” kind of situation every time.  So be kind to your lil phone, she’s working hard for you.

Like most analogies, this one has holes. For more information and fancy technical words (and diagrams!), check out this article by Rus Shuler or this article by Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox browser.

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