Chris Hutchins

Understanding technology without a Ph.D.

"Hey Chris, What is the internet? I mean can you define it for me? And what is this "Hashtag" stuff? I looked it up and it's not in the dictionary, but everyone keeps on with hashtag this and hashtag that . can you give me a call and tell me what that means?"

This was the voicemail I heard on my desk phone at work Monday morning. The fact is, I sell cars for a living, I manage the Internet department for my dealership and I'm the resident product specialist or guru or know it all depending upon whom you ask, but quite often my job has very little to do with cars.

I knew right away that I had my work cut out for me. Yes, I can define the meaning of the word Internet but the network of computers and data storage that we call the Internet is actually more than the sum of its parts isn't it? What it does for us is more valuable than the hardware that makes it up, right? And, the incredible power of being able to "Google it" is pretty hard to quantify. Without the Internet, Google would be a large number, and without Google, the Internet would be a large bulletin board. So, how do you define the Internet?

Well, for my friend and for those of you that may be intrigued by what exactly the Internet is, I will try to sum things up right now. Here goes.

The Internet is an electronic network of computers and transmitters. Within this network there are devices that can hold large amounts of pictures, words, numbers, etc. Anything that can be transmitted or stored in electronic memory is called data. Sending data from one computer to another is what makes the Internet so powerful.

When computers send and receive data to each other, the ability to communicate is almost instantaneous. Within the Internet there are lots of services. Things like email providers or "hosts," data sending and receiving or "servers," and data storage or "the cloud." So, if you hear someone say that a picture or file is in the cloud they are not referring to the clouds we see in the sky, they are talking about an electronic data storage service, it's just easier to say cloud.

The most important thing to most people who use the Internet is a thing called a "search engine." Google is one of these. It basically helps us find the stuff we want. If that is way too complicated to understand, then think of it this way; the Internet is like a phone system that allows for typing or pictures, complete with very sophisticated answering machines that can hold as many messages as you want. Now, imagine this phone system has the ability to broadcast news like a television and has the largest most complete and most inaccurate encyclopedia ever conceived. I say inaccurate because anybody can contribute to the encyclopedia, whether or not they are correct.

Does that help? I hope so. I'm a little confused myself and when I started this I thought I knew what I was talking about!

Hashtags. Hash marks are the little tic tac toe board, or symbol for pound that you may be familiar with. On the Internet, you can mark a word with this hash mark which creates a "hashtag." It looks like this, #Hashtag. The hashtag is seen by search engines as a keyword to help find stuff.

Hi-tech in layman's terms, no Ph.D. required. Next week: Damara gets prehistoric with "Flintstones Golf."