Technology has pervaded all of our lives in so many ways, but perhaps no technology is more pervasive than the internet. Whether at home through our computers or on the go with our mobile devices, internet access has changed the way we work, play, shop, and communicate. But how well does the average person actually understand the internet and its related technologies? A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Pollfish for found that some people think they understand the internet more than than they actually do.

Among those surveyed, 86% said they know how the internet works. But when asked to explain it, only 66% of them were able to provide a reasonable answer. Many of the people polled were on the nose with such responses as “Packets of information are routed through a network of computers from one place to another,” “Many computers work together based on a common protocol,” “The internet is made up of multiple computer network systems, and there are numerous programs and algorithms which direct users to various URLs and websites,” and “The internet is made up of a massive network of specialized computers called routers. Each router’s job is to know how to move packets along from their source to their destination.”

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (TechRepublic download)

Other people couldn’t quite pass the test, offering such responses as “The internet works through many complicated processes. Servers, people etc.,” “Under the oceans,” “TCP/IP, I shouldn’t need to say more,” “By using coding codes, you plug it in,” “With solar panels,” and “It’s an invisible system of electrical currents and tethers that surrounds us like auras.”

Moving to other questions, 32% of the respondents said they believe their current mobile phone uses 5G. In actuality, 5G technology isn’t yet available for most consumers in the US, although AT&T got hit by a lawsuit from Sprint earlier this year after branding its 4G LTE network as 5G E.

A full 77% of those polled said that the internet is the same as the World Wide Web. Some 43% said that you can use the internet without a modem, which may be explained if those people were thinking of older-style dial-up modems. And 74% thought that Mbps stands for Megabytes per second (only 17% got the right answer of Megabits per second).

On the plus side, 84% correctly explained an IP address as “a unique address that identifies a device on the internet” (5% thought it’s the street address where you use your device, while 6% pegged it as the street address of your internet provider). A full 67% identified a magic cookie as “a file that is placed on your web browser by web servers to track information.” And when asked the difference between Wi-Fi and internet, 75% explained that “Wi-Fi is a way to wirelessly connect to the internet.”

“At, we wanted to find out exactly what people know about the internet and their understanding of technology in 2019,” staff researcher Victoria Merinda told TechRepublic. “A lot of ISPs like Verizon and AT&T have announced news this year about topics like 5G, and we wanted to see if consumers really understand where technology is, or if they’re confused by the mixed messages they see.

“When we asked if consumers know how the internet works, 86% said ‘yes.’ However, in our follow-up question, we asked them to explain it, and 66% (or 2/3) of those surveyed attempted to explain it. Those surveyed did get some technological questions right, including what an IP address is, what a cookie is, what the difference between Wi-Fi and internet is, and that you need more download speed than upload speed.”

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