If you’re young enough, you may not remember a time before the internet. If you’re a little older, you may remember connecting with dial up and shouting at your mum or dad when they picked up the phone and interrupted your Bebo or Myspace session. If you’re a little older than that, you will remember the good old pre-internet days of fax machines and snail mail.
Considering the latter was only 30 years ago, it’s staggering to think how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. But over the last 10 years or so, the development of digital tech has really gone into overdrive. Today we have watches which don’t just tell the time – they can also send emails and texts, and even monitor your heartrate. Alexa can tell you what the weather will be like without you even having to look outside. And you can stream as many Netflix series as you like, when you like, on your phone, tablet, laptop or smart TV.
It’s safe to say that the internet has fundamentally changed the way we live. Considering it plays such a crucial role in the modern world, it’s important we all understand it.
But how much do we really know about the internet?
Here are 10 of our favourite lesser-known facts about the internet that you may not have heard before.
Although many of us use “internet” and “World Wide Web” interchangeably, technically they are not the same thing. The internet refers to a huge network of networks – the infrastructure that connects millions of computers globally. Any computer inside the network can communicate with another. But to do so they must speak the same language. These languages are called protocols.
The web is just one way of accessing information over the internet, and it uses the HTTP protocol to transfer information. But HTTP is just one protocol. Others – including BGP, DHCP, DNS, FTP and IMAP – also exist, it’s just that most of us use HTTP or the web.
With a global population of seven billion, that’s way more connected devices than there are people. In fact, today, there are already 29.5 billion connected devices. The area with the largest number of internet users is Asia – with a whopping 8.6 billion connected devices! That’s an average of three internet-capable devices per person.
When you use the internet, oftentimes the data you send has to travel overseas to reach its destination. Or rather, it must travel under the sea. In fact, 99 percent of transoceanic data goes through undersea cables – that includes internet usage, phone calls and text messages. The main alternative – satellites – transport data around eight times slower, which means our reliance on undersea cables is likely to continue for a while yet.
However, these cables are not indestructible. They are at risk of damage from anchors, earthquakes, trawl nets and even shark attacks. In fact, every three days a cable gets damaged. When this happens, specialist ships are sent to pull the cables up and repair them. So long as they don’t all break at the same time, we can continue to use the internet as normal.
A study conducted by students from the Centre for Interdisciplinary Science at the University of Leicester estimated that the average web page requires 30 pages of A4 paper to print. They then worked out that the average Amazonian tree can provide 17 reams of paper – or about 500 individual sheets, equating to 8,500 sheets of paper per tree. Given the size of the Amazon rainforest (5.5 million square miles) and its density (around 400 billion trees), this means it would take less than one percent of the Amazon to print the entire internet.
According to the most recent stats, there are 4,208,571,287 internet users. Of these, 55.1 percent of are in Asia, 16.9 percent are in Africa and 10.8 percent are in Europe. Of course, the true figure will be higher than this since more and more people are connecting to the internet all the time. In fact, 127 new devices are connected to the internet every second. Which means that the total number of people using the internet is growing exponentially.
According to information collated by Climate Care, the energy emitted by the internet exceeds that generated by air travel. Every time you use a search engine, GHG gases are released — with an estimated two to seven grams of carbon dioxide released per search.
Thankfully, companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook are taking steps to make sure their datacentres and cloud computing facilities are greener.
But you can help too. Some simple things we can all do are limiting the number of “reply all” emails we send, turning off computers and laptops when they’re not in use for more than two hours and actually going to see someone in person rather than emailing them.
Today, many of us consider Google to be the primary search engine. But, before Google, there were others. The first search engine was named Archie and was launched in 1990. This was later followed by Veronica and Jughead. Although all were search engines, they each worked in very different ways. Ultimately, Google’s method proved the most effective, and today the company is by far the most popular search engine available.
Did you know the internet has its own patron saint? Well, it does. In fact, Pope John Paul II chose St Isidore of Seville to be the patron saint of the internet in 1997 since he wrote an encyclopaedic series called “Etymologiae” about everything there was to know about in the 7th century.
It might sound like something out of Lord of the Rings, but there really are seven keyholders of the internet. Each keyholder is a leading security expert and was chosen for their vast experience as well as where they live (since no one country is allowed more than a few of them).
What these people control is the system at the very heart of the web: the Domain Name System (DNS). This is the internet’s equivalent of a telephone directory. Without the DNS, every time you visited a website, you’d have to type in a long series of numbers instead of a web address. This would make navigating the internet much, much harder, and so it’s incredibly important the DNS is properly maintained.
It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without the internet. Although only a few decades ago people managed without it, it’s become such a big part of the modern world that if it were to suddenly break our lives would completely transform. Though the internet is incredibly resilient, threats such as a significant solar flare; a huge, coordinated cyber-attack; or a mass cable cutting incident could theoretically break the entire internet.
As such, technologist and inventor Danny Hills says that we should have a backup plan, which, at present, is something we do not have. Yet.