The Internet – We’re Addicted. But What Is The Internet?


Episode Transcription

Made by robots, for robots. Only read if you're weird.

We’ve all had these questions before. What is the Internet? Who invented it? When was the internet invented? How does it even work? The story is often treated like a mythic tale, but it’s a timeline that we can somewhat pinpoint. The way it works seems almost ethereal today. It’s a collection of data floats through space and into our devices. Yet, the explanation of the inner workings of the internet is as explicable as the invention of the revolutionary system.

Who invented the internet

We’ve all heard the myth that Al Gore invented the internet. That’s not true. It’s a lie started by Mr. Gore himself. Some people think that the internet has this sort of mythical foundation with no real starting point. There were indeed multiple forces working at once to birth the internet. However, the real foundation of the internet comes from one place. The government program was known as ARPANET.

What was ARPANET

In the ’60s, the United States government operated a branch called ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency). Now known as DARPA, with the addition of the word defense to the acronym, the organization’s main focus was to fund research projects that could be useful for the United States’ interests. One such program was known as ARPANET. This program hoped to link computers to share files and communicate across the country. The government enlisted several organizations and universities to fulfill this dream. Organizations on the project included UCLA and SRI, which you may remember from our episode on remote viewing.

The network was successful and was used for many years within the government. However, in the late ’80s, DARPA noted how much money it was costing the United States and decided to sell the technology to a private entity. Over the next few years, the government sold pieces of the tech to various entities, and the precursor to the modern internet was born.

The Internet We Know

Starting in the early ’90s, the internet became available to private consumers. This early iteration of the web, often called web1, was primarily a massive encyclopedia. Authors of the internet covered the information system, but users could only access the information. The average internet user could not add their content or share any form of data on the internet.

On came Web2. The second phase of the internet blew up with social media sites like Geocities and Zynga. For the first time, users could post their content to the internet. Instead of a closed source system with highly curated information, it became an open-source utopia with freely exchanged and updated information.

Now we are staring down the birth of the third internet generation, Web3. It is difficult to predict what this new generation of the internet will bring. Many technologies hope to be the dominant force in the Web3 era. Things like NFTs, the metaverse, and cryptocurrency are all fighting for the forerunner of this new phase. It will likely be a synthesis of the three creating a whole new digital landscape in the coming decades.

How Does The Internet Work

It’s tempting to think of the internet as some supernatural force. After all, we cannot see any of the infrastructures that make the internet possible. In reality, though, quite a massive amount of physical machinery makes the internet happen.

When you upload a photo to Instagram, the internet gets to work. First, your phone breaks down all the information in the image into a series of bytes. Each byte contains 8 bits, and these bits are simply a series of switches or yes’s, and no’s. Your phone compiled millions of these bits to generate the image you see on your screen. But to get that image on the internet, it needs to break it back down into those original bits once again. It then sends those bits over radio waves to your internet router.

The router receives the wavelengths and interprets a specific wavelength as a ‘yes’ or ‘on’ bit and a different wavelength as a ‘no’ or ‘off’ bit. The router will then send that information to your modem, which translates that information into a fiber line. The fiber line functions the same wavelength, but it sends laser pulses instead of transmitting radio waves. At the other end of the fiber line, a receiver recognizes a laser on as an ‘on’ or ‘yes’ bit and the laser off as a ‘no’ or ‘off’ bit.

The data is then uploaded into a local data center, where the information is then routed out to the specific site that is being sent, in this case, Instagram’s servers. Next, the data follows the same set of circumstances into Instagram’s server hub. There the data is pieced back together and stored until one of your followers accesses the image, and it follows the reverse flow back to your device.


In many respects, the internet is unbelievable. It just keeps getting bigger, better, and faster. Most of us have, honestly, taken this fantastic technology for granted. But, learning a bit about its history and how it works can help us be more patient with one of the most amazing things ever created. The incredibly complex process is accomplished millions of times a second every time you use it. So next time you’re waiting for something to buffer, take a breath and recognize how amazing it is that this data can even make it to you in the first place.

Things I Learned Last Night is an educational comedy podcast where best friends Jaron Myers and Tim Stone talk about random topics and have fun all along the way. If you like learning, and laughing a whole lot while you do, then you’ll love TILLN. Watch or listen to this episode right now!




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