Internet is not a “thing”

People often take what they acquire from the Internet for granted. I could not even remember the exact year when my online surfing did not affect my mom’s phone call, and when the Internet in my home became wireless so that I could link to different mobile devices. It seemed that Internet develops spontaneously. In fact, Internet is not simply a thing when tapping an icon on the computer to make it “appear”. It is a system that designed with modularity and layers, with the tight connection of social-technical context. Under such circumstance, being “on” the Internet means we are engaging in universal agreed protocols that enable the exchange of data through network, and we are also influenced by the social-technical-political-economic system at the same time.

We just need to wait 1-2 seconds for loading a website, however, the data sending-receiving process in not like this simple. According to Abelson, “the Internet is a delivery service for bits.” TCP/IP is designed for connecting servers on the Internet and processing data exchange. These data are broke down into packets for transmission, and being resembled and interpreted by the receiver’s device. Protocols are divided into different layers. Each layer of protocols has their own responsibility, using services of the lower layer and providing services to the higher layer. In the transport layer, the responsibility of TCP is to ensure the accurate delivery of data transmission, and it does not care about what other protocols do. As a modular design, it reduces complexity while increases modifiability. When first reading about the DNS in the application layer, I suddenly realized that I have once involved in the modular design of Internet. When I was at home in China last year, I found my computer could not load lots of websites, including domestic websites. I searched online for reasons and someone suggested look up for the DNS server address showed in the computer network settings. If it is showed as, then change it into I tried and it magically solved my problem. Later I found that is a public DNS address owned by Google, while is basically the router’s DNS address owned by the Internet service provider. Changing DNS address does affect Internet speed. According to a test, “the results showed a 132.1 percent improvement from using Google’s DNS servers over using the stock DNS serves”, which was totally different from my using experience in China. Although I still have no idea of the reason why my computer uses Google’s DNS address as default, I make an assumption of the reason why I could not use this address is because Google services are blocked in China. This is a typical example of how social-technical context connects with Internet system.

Here is the window of my computer where I can change the DNS server’s address.

The Internet censorship in China blocked access to a number of popular foreign websites and services through the Great Firewall in order to prevent information against governments’ interests from being spread to the public. It is really annoying for me because I’m not able to check my Gmail. The best option to break the wall is to purchase for VPN service. The VPN server provides accessible IP addresses that could be connected to blocked websites. By using any of the provided IP address, the real IP address is hidden so that the ISP could not be able to track your Internet status. Therefore, the impact of political context on Internet system is obvious.

Question: Internet surfing in China is relatively much slower than in the US. It will take longer time for a website to be completely loaded. Is it because of Internet censorship that adds the filtering process when loading the website? Which layers of the protocols fit into this process? Is the speed also related to the geographic location of the IP addresses?


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Crawford, D (2016, January 20). VPNs for Beginners – What You Need to Know. Retrieved from

Denning and Martell, Great Principles of Computing, Chap. 11, “Networking.”

Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This? Retrieved from