The Internet has had a relatively brief, but explosive history. It grew out of an experiment begun in the 1960's by the U.S. Department of Defense. The DoD wanted to create a computer network that would continue to function in the event of a disaster. If part of the network was damaged, the rest of the system still had to work. That network was ARPANET, which linked U.S. scientific and academic researchers. It was the forerunner of today's Internet. For more Internet history, see Hobbes' Internet Timeline.
Even though the Internet is a global network, in many ways it resembles a small town, with similar services. Let's say you want to send or receive mail. The Internet has electronic post offices. There are online libraries with millions of books and periodicals you can use any time of the day or night. Chat rooms are the Internet equivalent of 24-hour coffee shops, with people eager to gab anytime you want. The World Wide Web is like a giant mall, where you can shop, order a pizza, preview a movie, and listen to radio stations from around the world. All of these represent different ways of using the Internet.
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