magnamous asks: "Ever since Senator Ted Stevens used the phrase 'series of tubes' to describe his understanding of the Internet, I've noticed several stories and comments referencing how silly that is. Although I agree that that description is rather silly, each time I've found myself trying to come up with a -succinct layman's definition- of what the Internet is, and I come up short. Wikipedia has a gargantuan page describing the Internet, and Google's definitions offer pretty good descriptions of what the Internet is in a functional sense (with some throwing in terms that the layman wouldn't understand, or take the time to understand), but not really a good description of what it -is- in the physical sense that I think Sen. Stevens was trying to get at. What are your suggestions for a succinct layman's definition of the Internet?"
I know some would say that laypeople should take the time to learn the technical, more accurate meaning of what the Internet is. The problem is that they won't. We all know laypeople. I live with two of them. When you start talking about 'TCP/IP' or 'DNS', or if you get far enough to start describing those terms, their eyes glaze over. That's what makes them laypeople — they don't care about the subject enough to learn about it in-depth; if they did, they'd be computer enthusiasts. So please keep in mind that, in order for this discussion to be useful, 'succinct' and 'layman' are essential parts to any definition of the Internet given here. Also keep in mind that 'succinct' doesn't necessarily mean one sentence; a relatively short paragraph would be fine, too — the main goal is to come up with something that physically describes the Internet in a way which laypeople can actually understand."