As I have noted many times previously in this forum, I am not ashamed to admit that I don't really understand the internet or how it works. It has been explained to me many times, often with a sampling of metaphors intended to simplify the more complex parts, to no avail. I get it, but at the same time I don't get it. The internet isn't a physical thing, but at the same time it is (as evidenced by giant server farms).
Look, I'm OK with this. I can take a thing or two on faith in this life – I accept the internet as part of our shared reality without understanding quite how the words I type (which end up stored…somewhere, I guess) reach the end user. You are certainly free to take a crack at explaining it in the simplest terms, but that really isn't necessary. I've made my peace with it. Not knowing is OK sometimes.
All that said, last year I read an article (not available online, ironically enough) in The Baffler entitled "What Does the Internet Look Like?" That piece offered plenty in the way of interesting discussion and metaphors for the ol' World Wide Web, yet it too struggled with the fundamental question of how the internet can look like anything if it is intangible. Well, maybe partially intangible. There is some part of the internet that we can touch, right?
Devote 11 minutes to this excellent short documentary about the infrastructure of the internet – servers, routing stations, fiber optic cables, and more – hidden, sometimes in plain sight, all around us.
I still can't tell you how the whole process works. I am comforted to know that if The Internet ever becomes self aware and mankind needs to destroy it, there is something real and tangible out there that we can blow up, smash, or otherwise turn into rubble. Then again, since the information on the internet is distributed (or something, right?) even a full pitchforks-and-torches assault might fail to kill it.
So I guess the best analogy for the internet is the hydra…an enormous, stupid hydra full of porn.