It’s common for schools to insist on media literacy and digital citizenship classes for students. With the integration of online activities into all aspects of modern life comes a responsibility to help developing minds absorb, process, sift through, and evaluate the ever-increasing torrents of information.
Developing a critical eye towards content is indisputably important. But what about the infrastructure that brings you that content? Is there significant value in understanding how it all works under the hood? After all, few people really understand how radio and TV transmissions work, and those media channels have broadcast their signals for decades without anyone suggesting that the underlying technology should be understood to properly frame the content being delivered.
So why would internet technology be any different? While cultural impact happens mostly at the application level (content delivery algorithms, development of addictive services, etc.), I do think people can better understand the information age when armed with some knowledge of how the internet is built, how it connects endpoints, who or what those endpoints are. What is a web site? Where does “big data” live? What the heck is “the cloud”? When people have a better idea of what web servers actually are, how switches and routers work, what search engines and crawlers and aggregators actually do, they’ll be better positioned to be critical content consumers.
On a more practical level, anyone who wants to be a “hacker”—i.e. a computer security professional or expert—will need to know networking inside and out. And many software jobs these days require knowledge of HTML (the language of web pages), sockets, connections, routing, etc. Even if I didn’t need to know a little bit about networking to do my job, I still think it’s a pretty amazing and interesting world to discover.