Internet Origins

Like all granddads the world over, I know everything πŸ™‚ My grandson came up to me and said “grandad, you know everything; what is the Internet?” Believe it or not, I don’t actually know everything πŸ™‚ but as an IT geek; I do know a lot about the Internet but I struggled to find an explanation suitable for a 6 yr old and he’s still struggling to understand WiFi πŸ™‚ Magic seems to be a good explanation!

This got me thinking, I’ve prided myself (over the years) in being able to explain technical stuff in plain English to non-technical people by finding things that they can relate to (not always easy). “Magic” wasn’t really a good answer for an enquiring mind, neither was “smoke & mirrors” πŸ™‚ So the thinking went on.

We have brilliant people such as Liklider and Tim Berners Lee and generally we think of the Internet and computers as being “partners in crime” but I realised that the “Internet” origins are a lot older and preceded computers.

I’m thinking about the early days of telegraphy and it’s main use was probably mainly associated with the railways but someone had to start laying all the “telegraphic” cables from town to town, village to village etc. The logistics are mind boggling, how could anyone come up with a plan to get all these cables laid, underground, overground, under the oceans; magic again seems to be a good word, awesome just doesn’t do it.

Then telephones starting coming on board, maybe using the same cables as the telegraph but extra ones also. In my work as an IT geek, I once had the task of introducing telecoms engineers to smartphones and showing them how to use them and take photos to squirt back to base as part of our “IT in the Field” project. I won’t bore you with the details but I had the privilege of seeing for my own eyes what is down those holes in the road where telecoms engineers disappear!Β  For years I’ve often thought about that and about all the cables running under ground. This particular group of engineers were tasked with removing old cables running underground from Edinburgh to London! Imagine that, it was a main trunk cable! The old cables were about 3 inchesΒ (75mm) in dia and contained a few hundred twisted pairs of cables. They were replacing these with Fibreglass cables of maybe 25mm dia that are capable of thousands of connections instead of hundreds. When you think about these (old) cables being part of the Infrastructure that makes up the “Internet” and all of the voice and data traffic being squirted down these cables and then you wonder how can they replace the cable without disrupting the data flow. Sorry, magic again πŸ™‚

I’m of the opinion that our thanks should go to the amazing telecoms companies world wide, it is these people that have put in place the Infrastructure for the Internet and indeed these cables ARE the Internet. Back in the day, when you used a telephone; you were in principle connecting to the Internet but only using analogue (voice) signals. Back in the day, before computers, all the switching had to be done using valves and a lot of manual stuff, then came transistors and of course computers; which gave us routers and all manner of automation. New technologies able to make use of these old cables along with computers has got us where we are now. Magnificent people working invisibly to give us the modern Internet, which allows us to use the services like the World Wide Web, Email, Cloud storage etc all of which need the Internet. Of course it’s a lot more complex these days!

Stand up and give a cheer for those pioneers in telegraphy and telephony, without them, we would still be using Semaphore and signal fires πŸ™‚ On the bright side we wouldn’t be choking on UCE/spam:-)

If you’re interested in reading more about the Internet, hop over to

Lots of lovely stuff to read.

I think my grandson now understands that the “Internet” refers to the “Infrastructure” (the cables, routers and switches) and that the WWW and other services are services that use the “Internet”.

With regard to “connectivity” I’m still working on trying to give my grandson a suitable answer to explain WiFi, Ethernet and 3/4G. He doesn’t get Ethernet because he only uses WiFi or 4G but he’s getting the idea of WAP (Wireless Access Points) and is coming round to the idea of “radio waves”. He (and his younger brother) understand that they need a “WiFi password” to access “the Internet” but trying to explain the the difference between WiFi and 4G still needs a bit of work πŸ™‚

Updated 2020/01/10