Yesterday, after receiving the question that every parent is afraid of, I spent 40 minutes explaining the answer to my 4 year old daughter Nathalie, the answer to the fateful question: Hey Dad, what’s the internet?.
Through many drawings and simple explanations, I was able to make her understand (and I asked her several questions to double check it), once I told about my success on Google Plus, many people asked me to share both the explanation and the drawings and so, here they are.
Before I started discussing computers, digital content and data transfer, I began with a simple example.
The connected houses example
Imagine that Nathalie wants to play with the wooden horse of her friend Malu, who lives at 45 minutes of our house, and that there is a underground tunnel that allow us to reach far places rapidly. She will only have to enter the tunnel and she will almost instantly in Malu’s house to play with the horse, then she will be able to come back at any moment.
Now let’s imagine the houses of all the children around the world connected through this tunnel, allowing us to enjoy the toys of every kid at any time, as long as the kid allows it, of course.
Each kid will be able to decide whether he wants to share or not his toys at the tunnel’s entrance, or indicate which ones he wants to share and which ones not.
The example ended here, though I’d probably be able to extend a little bit by telling here that not every house has a tunnel and that is possible that many kids want to play with the same toy at the same time and that it’s not possible to break other kids’ toys (well in fact you can, but that will only make things complicated)
Once she understood the metaphor and I asked all the necessary questions to make sure she have understood all the advantages of having a tunnel like that, we began with the Internet, but not before I show you the drawing I conceived as I was explaining the topic.
Computers, telephones and TV in the magic tube
To explain the internet, I used the world of film-making process as an example. She is acquainted to see online movies as well as on TV. Sometimes we watch cartoons together on YouTube, therefore the word Internet showed up with a certain frequency day after day.
Imagine that we’re watching cartoons on the computer and we want that our friend Malu can watch them as well. One way will be lending her the DVD and wait to have it back the next day, but what if there is a very long tube that can carry the image and sound to Malu’s PC?, that would be much better.
We build the magic tube and then we ask Malu to hook it to her PC (or her TV, which can also be done). Once the tube is fully operating, we can see the movie with Malu at the same time.
Now connect more computers to the tube and let’s take a glance at what we can observe in them. We see that a child in China has put a new cartoon on the tube, while another kid in Argentina has put some pictures of his latest trip and another boy in France has put his coloring book.
If all the computers were connected between each other, we would be able to see what others see, play the things they play and even talk through the tube so others can listen to us … that’s how she talks with her grandparents, through the magic tube that in this case connects our computer with theirs.
On the same way that the tunnel connects houses, every kid in the world can decide which movies he wants to share, which pictures he want us to see, what games is he going to leave on the tube, etc.
If one day the tube is not functioning, then you will only be able to see what’s inside your computer, therefore you won’t be able to look for videos in other kids’ computers, you will not be able to talk with your grandparents and you will be also unable to find new video games … which is exactly what happens when Daddy says that the internet is down.
You can find many things in those cables, jungle books, underwater photos … anything that other people have created and then put on the tube to share with the rest of the world.
At this point, Nathalie asked me if it was possible to put on the tube the drawing she made yesterday so other kids can see it. I answered yes and that she could even receive opinions and comments about the color she chose for the sky or the style she gave to the flowers.
Just like before, I skipped the fact that the Internet is not only a P2P network, that there are servers and access filters, though once the idea of interconnected computers around the world matures, it will be easy, within a few months, to explain the concept of servers (at the end it’s just adding the concept of big computers with lots of tubes connected to them and a gatekeeper watching over the tubes.
The second drawing is similar to the first one:
- Now she want us to buy a TV with internet connection, just like Malu’s, that way she will be able to see the Argentinian kid photos on a big screen while sitting on the couch.
- When I drew grandpa’s telephone, I made a drawing similar to the ones we make during our childhood, with the earpiece and the little numbers’ wheel … I had to erase it when she told me that she had no clue about what that drawing meant.
- I had to explain her why she cannot put the Snow White DVD on the magic tube, though that explanation was worse than the previous one.
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