The internet is a giant computer network that connects computers all over the world through a series of intermediate stops (routers). It started as a USA department of defence idea to secure important data in the event of a nuclear disaster, namely in a robust computer network so that no single computer would hold all the important data and that if one or more computers were destroyed, others would still have this data.
It morphed into a way for people to then communicate with each other over long distances but was restricted to government organisation and universitities. It also required some knowlege of computer networking and commands – was not user friendly. Think of things like Gopher, FTP, rlogin and News (which I remember using!!)
Tim Berners Lee at CERN invented the so-called WWW interface which allowed the information to be displayed and shared in a user-friendly manner and around the mid-1990s networking became very cheap as did PCs, so everyone became able to connect to the “Information Superhighway” (Al Gore’s dodgy description).
After that the Internet has grown as more people have started to use it and corporations and government have worried about free speech and revolution.
As for a more direct answer to your question, I think the Internet is actually a representation of humanity – a product of our cleverness and ingenuity to solve problems, make things work, communicate, work together, but also our bad sides: communication, hate, racism, evilness. This has been facilitated by advances in hardware and computers.
So the Internet is what it is because we invented it. Whether it turns into Skynet or not is something we have to wait and see…
Hey avril, I’d just like to elaborate on what Michael said because actually I asked my students (1st year science at University) this question last year!… They realised they were all a bit confused between internet the world wide web and who invented it! The internet grew in small steps, and the first word ever transmitted from one computer to another was.. LOG… because they tried LOGIN and it didnt send fully!
The internet, like Michael said, allows computers to connect to eachother to exchange information, the first suggestion was for a “galatic network” of computers for defence reasons. Now it is probably used even more as a communication tool by individuals.
Imagine we havent had it for very long (around 40 years or so), and it makes me think if this was like what it felt like when people invented printing??
Its a great tool that will certainly continue to change! People will make what they will of it!