Daddy, how does the internet work?

Is that the internet, daddy?

Moo casually asked over breakfast yesterday, ‘Daddy, how does the internet work’. I was struggling, as ever, to cram breakfast in them, tidy hair, shove on shoes and get out on the school run.

My brain started to whirl around for an explanation that she could grasp. I thought about spiders webs,  toy trains carrying packets of information, string and tin-can telephones and carrier pigeons. Nothing seemed to capture what I was trying to say, so I resorted to that terrible fall back.

“Magic makes the internet work Moo, magic. Now put your shoes on.”

I felt bad about using  the magic line and vowed to come up with a simple explanation to the simple question: ‘how does the internet work’.

Big fat failure

But I’ve failed! I’ve just spent 30 minutes looking at various science explainer sites, but have yet to find a simple way of explaining the internet to a four-year-old. So ‘magic’ will have to do.

Considering how much time we spend, and rely, on the internet it’s quite shocking that I can’t explain how it works. I could have a stab at it, but in reality I know I’ll be wide off the mark.

But then I don’t know how gears work in a car, despite driving with no problems for 25-plus years. However I do know the Highway Code – the set of rules and regulations that make us all safe drivers. Take the test to see if you do too – I got 92%. 

I don’t understand it, but I like it

So perhaps knowing how something works is not as important as knowing how to use it. My girls have grown up in a world where the internet has always existed. For them it just exists and they can’t understand why we don’t have it in the car on long (or short!) journeys.

Rather than teach them how it gets in our homes, I think we need to tell them how it gets in their head. And that what they see on the web is not necessarily a reflection of the real world. Or a substitute for real relationships or experiences. Or for printed newspapers and books.

Hocus pocus help them focus

Let’s face it, the internet is magic and we’re incredibly lucky to be living in the internet age. So what if I don’t know how it works?  It’s more important to help my girls learn the internet’s own special Highway Code so they can stay on the right side of the information super highway, as we used to call it in the 1990s!




2 thoughts on “Daddy, how does the internet work?

  1. Basically, the internet is millions of devices, all around the planet, communicate with each other. each device has its own IP(internet protocol) adress. This is like a phone number which is unique to each device. When you go to a website, your computer is sending a request for a specific url(website adress) to the router, which then sends a request to a so called “nameserver” which stores a list of all the websites with the ending of the url you sent. So, for example, if you typed in , the router would send a request to a nameserver which stores all the websites ending with it would then find in the list, and send the IP adress of back to your router. The router then sends a message to the IP adress of, which it acquired from the nameserver. The server of then sends a message to your computer(via your router) telling your browser how to display the website. every time you click on something on this website, this proccess is repeated again.

    1. That’s exactly what I said: It’s magic!

      Thanks Tim, spot on description. I like the phone number analogy, that’s something the girls could relate to.

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