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What is a Network?

Written By: Gary on March 9, 2007 3 Comments

So my Mom asks me what her network is, I tell her the name of it but she wants to know what it is. We talked for a bit but she’s not liking any of my (wonderful) analogies. Plus the fact that she’s wireless now means I can’t just say it’s the wire…

The closest on a home scale I could come up with was her phone network. She’s got the phone wires just like the computer wires and a cordless phone in the house. It’s not weird that she doesn’t understand the computer network, it’s weird that she thinks she understands the phone network…

It’s funny the questions people ask when they use technology that they never asked before (I don’t mean just my Mom, I’m picking on millions of people here). There are just so many computer similarities with phones, cable tv, and plumbing but people just never seem wonder about it; but when they get a computer they want an answer. I’m thinking that when she’s over my house next she’ll see all the other wireless networks (in my neighborhood) in her list and that’ll help (at least the why of why it has a name). I was sure to leave out the fact that her phone now goes over the cable with the internet and the television channels.One of the communications issues was to her “network” was a computer word so it just didn’t apply when I tried to talk about the network of highways and roads (or the phone network). I’ll make sure I have some visual aids next time (and wave my arms around while I talk, that always helps).

And it turns out her community education computer class was canceled. Not enough people signed up…

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3 Responses to “What is a Network?”

  1. Kurt V. says on: 9 March 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Interesting. Kind of a later in life “Why is the sky blue?” question. (By the way, an even more fascinating question is “Why is the sky dark at night?” See http://www.arachnoid.com/sky/index.html for a fascinating explanation.)

    But getting back to the “What is a network?” question:

    You will need graphics. Just doing quick searches for images using Google (not even caring if they are on sites that are relevant or not) here we go!

    First I’d show a fisherman’s net.
    http://www.siman.cz/landing_nets/images/net_detail_2.jpg

    Then I’d show a simple SOCIAL network.
    http://www.nickdenton.org/archives/friendster.gif

    Then if you wanted to, you could show a much more complex social network.
    http://www.girardin.org/fabien/blog/images/nexusnet.jpg

    Then you could show a simple computer network
    http://www.techsoup.org/binaries/Images/simplenetwork.gif

    and then another one kind of like the phone system or, if you want to go really old school, the post office
    http://pycs.net/lateral/static/VPN-1.png

    And THEN you might think about pointing her to a tutorial like:
    http://computer.howstuffworks.com/home-network.htm

    And last but not least, remember Clarke’s third laW:

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  2. Gary LaPointe says on: 9 March 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Kurt, I really almost wrote the whole “sky is blue” thing when I was writing the post, but I figured some smart-alek would look up the answer for me ;)

    We talked about the post office too. Specifically for the “network of mail-carriers” concept.

    Yeah, she won’t listen long enough for all of that. We’ll see if it comes up again.

    I need to put up a white board or easel or something there :)

  3. Brian says on: 12 March 2007 at 11:35 am

    I would stick with the phone network analogy. This was ultimately the comparison that worked with my parents. It took two versions, and I learned that it would have been better to start with the the Alexander G. Bell end of the story first versus the wireless phone end of the story (that end of the story is still magical and mystical to them…).

    Assuming Mother-of-Gary is about the same age as Mother-of-Brian, you should see some visusal indicators of undersatnding when you describe the switch operator sitting in the Bell Office connecting calls with her headset and hard-wired switchboard and plugs. The operator was a “router,” afterall…

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