What is the internet?

The internet has revolutionised the way we work and play. It allows us to communicate, to share data and to seek information in a matter of seconds. All this is possible through the use of computers and networks.

The internet is a global network of computers. All computer devices (including PCs, laptops, games consoles and smartphones) that are connected to the internet form part of this network. Added together, there are billions of computers connected to the internet, all able to communicate with each other.

Today, the internet is a massive part of our daily lives.

Demonstration of globally connected devices

How did the internet originate?

In the 1950s, the United States Defence Department formed several agencies, such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, now known as DARPA) with the purpose of developing technology. However, since they were based at universities around the country, ARPA’s scientists could not easily communicate or share information. To solve this problem, ARPA created a network of computers, which they called ARPANET. Realising how useful ARPANET was, other organisations built their own networks. However, these individual networks could not easily communicate with each other.

In the 1970s, a protocol was developed. Called TCP/IP, this protocol allowed the separate networks to communicate with each other. The joining of these individual networks created a huge wide area network (WAN) which came to be known as the internet.

Since then the use of the internet by organisations and individuals has grown year upon year. In the beginning, ARPANET consisted of just four computers. Now billions of computers are connected to the internet.

When we connect to the internet, we are said to be ‘online’. Today the internet has many online facilities, for example:

  • communication via email and VoIP
  • sharing of information such as text, images, sounds and videos
  • storage of information
  • streaming television programmes, films, videos, sounds and music
  • playing online games
  • shopping
  • social networking
  • banking

Most of these online facilities are available through the use of websites on the World Wide Web.

Six laptops with different website pages open such as video streaming, banking, shopping, download, blogging and banking