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!