Explain Like I'm Human 1: The Internet
Explain like I’m human!
What is this
I’m attempting a new series, where I’ll choose a bunch of technical topics and explain them in non-technical terms! The audience for this is anyone who wants to learn about technical topics but doesn’t have the technical background the look it up themselves.
Topic 1: The Internet
I’ll start with something that you probably use every single day, maybe even every hour! The Internet. You may already know how the internet works, or you may think it’s just this magical technology that you use to call your family thousands of miles away - but regardless, you probably know how important the internet is to our everyday lives, so what’s a better topic to start with than the internet!
How it works
So since this is a series about humanizing technical topics, there will be tons of analogies, I’ll try to make them entertaining, but no promises.
Imagine you are placed in a large stadium and your crush is on the other side of the stadium 😍 - now imagine you want to send them a message (and of course, no-wifi, or service!). This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, all that paper plane practice finally becomes useful! You decide to turn the message into a paper plane, write the seat number you want your message to reach (your crush’s seat) and you throw the airplane in that direction.
Now, let’s assume people in the stadium are nice and sober, so once someone from the crowd grabs your paper plane, they read the seat number, and throw it again.
Eventually, the paper plane reaches your crush and they tear it apart, shoulda just walked over I guess 🤷. That’s basically how the internet works - When you call your family, your voice is making a bunch of hops as the paper plane did, and eventually, it reaches your family, with each hop, the receiver looks at where you want to send your voice, and forwards it to someone closer!
Whenever an analogy runs too deep, I’ll have a section like this that translates to actual technical terminology:
The paper plane ➡️ packet
The people ➡️ routers
Another simplification here is that we assumed is that the whole message fits into a paper plane, usually, that’s not the case with packets, where each message is split into multiple packets, and the eventual receiver (your crush) would re-assemble the planes to get your full message (and sometimes they arrive out of order! but that’s getting outside the realm of humanity)
Next up, we’ll talk about three topics you might have thought about when reading the above!
- Security: Wait, can’t the people in the crowd just READ the message 😱
- Reliability: What if someone just tosses the paper out! People are evil!
- Location: Wait, I don’t know my crush’s actual seat number!!
Whenever we think of security, it’s easy to think of a hacker in the matrix, reading 1’s and 0’s - but that’s not it, security in the context of the internet is making sure you and your crush can send each other messages, without anyone reading them or cat-fishing either one of you. There are two underlying concepts here:
- How do we make sure no one reads the message, but still moves it across!
- How do we make sure no one intercepts the messages and writes their own messages cat-fishing you!
Concept 1: Encryption: Encryption sounds scary! But think of it this way, it’s just about making sure that only your crush can read your message, and everyone else cannot. The perfect example of this is invisible ink! Do you remember those pens? Where on one side there’s a pen, and the other side is a light that shows you what you wrote? Encryption is that! Instead of writing the message in a regular pen, you write it using a pen that you broke in half before the game and gave the flashlight half to your crush (this analogy is getting stretched, I’m sorry 😆). This way no one in the crowd can read the message, since only your crush has the flashlight! (in this world, each pen is unique, and only the light on that specific pen can reveal the message, bear with me)
Oof that took effort
- That invisible pen is actually what we call an
- The whole “give your crush the half before the game” is hard in practice because, in reality, you can’t physically give your peer the key without someone reading it out - I am yet to figure out how to explain how that’s done more humanly - I might write another blog post covering only
Concept 2: Signing: Signing is exactly what it sounds like! Imagine that you have a signature that no one in the world can duplicate, if your crush sees that signature, it’s from you and only you!
I’m an optimist, I think people are nice, so I probably would have done an awful job if I designed how the internet works 😅. We can’t assume that people will be nice enough to toss the paper plane, they might just lose it, tear it apart, or even eat it, I don’t know, people do weird things. So the best we can do is to have a plan! And the plan is simple, we wait for our crush to tell us that they received our message… by a paper plane. If we don’t get the acknowledgement that they received the message, we send another paper plane their way!
But… what if their acknowledgement got lost 😱 It’s okay, we will just send another paper plane, and if they get two, our crush will know that the first acknowledgement wasn’t delivered in time and will send us another acknowledgement - plus, two love confessions are better than one 😄.
So, your crush is across the stadium, you know their name, but you don’t know their seat number. What do you do?
The answer is really simple, just ask! You can’t ask them, they are far away, but you can ask the stadium staff. The staff will either know the seat number or will know which staff member knows the seat number, either way, they’ll be able to tell you. Once you have the seat number, you can throw your plane!
So this process here is called
DNS. You know how when you access a website, you look up something like
tarikeshaq.com - but the computer that has my website can’t be addressed by URL. (
URL are the technical name for links,
google.com is a URL) On the internet, everything is addressed by what we call an
IP address. In our paper plane analogy, the seat number is the
IP. You may not know the
IP address (in fact you’re kind of weird if you do, in a good way, like good weird 😏), but you may know a
URL (or the name of your crush) and you can use an authority (either a
DNS server or the stadium staff) to get you the right address.
Makes sense? No? I’m sorry
Okay, so that’s it on the internet for this post. If you reached this, it means the analogy didn’t die on you, I gotta admit it was a bit of a stretch 🙃
I’ll think of the next topic in the next few days! But if you are reading this and have a specific topic that I haven’t written about in mind, let me know! It helps to know what readers wanna read. And if you want to know even more about the internet, let me know too! You can find my contact info on this website’s home page.
For the time being, please just use Instagram or something to message your crush, I don’t condone throwing paper planes in stadiums 😉.