NET 101 - Networking Essentials I

Chapter 1, Digital Literacy


This lesson introduces the student to basic terms and concepts used in the course. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Differentiate between desktops, laptops, tablets, and servers
  2. Describe the uses of smartphones, cameras, media players, e-book readers, and other digital devices
  3. Differentiate between data and information
  4. Describe several methods of input
  5. Differentiate between the Internet and the web
  6. Understand the terms web, web page, web site, web server
  7. Understand the definition and use of the terms browser, search engine, social network
  8. Overview of digital security, risks, viruses, malware, privacy
  9. Overview of the difference between an operating system and an application
  10. Overview of communications, wireless and wired technologies, uses of networks
  11. Understand that technology is used in most areas of business
  12. Understand that technology is used in most areas of life

This chapter introduces several topics that are basic to understanding computer based technology, several of which are developed further in the chapters that follow.

The first topic is digital literacy, the title of the chapter. It is defined as having a current knowledge and understanding of:

  • computers
  • mobile devices
  • the Internet
  • related technologies

This definition is one that will evolve over time. As new technologies are developed and made available to mass markets, there will be new items that a technologically literate person will be expected to understand. This does not mean that a digitally literate person must understand how to build, install, and service all digital devices. It means that a digitally literate person will be reasonably familiar with these devices, and similar devices, and will know what to look for when shopping or learning to use one. Digital literacy will not make you a technician, but it is a first step that a technician must take along the way.

A classic definition of a computer is offered. It is simple and short so that it can include many different devices: a computer takes input, performs some kind of processing, and gives some kind of output.

  • Input is often called data, which is confusingly used as both a singular and a plural noun. It's what we give to the device.
  • Processing can be mathematical processing, text processing, signal processing, and practically any other kind you can imagine.
  • Output is what the device gives to someone (or something), not necessarily the person who provided the input. When you talk on a cell phone, for example, one input may be your voice, which is processed by several digital devices after the one in your hand, and finally some other device typically produces output to someone who is listening for it. You could be having a conversation, leaving a voice mail, buying a product, or doing something we can't imagine yet until it is invented and marketed.
  • In general, data is processed to give it meaning to someone when it is turned into output. Output of this type is often called information. Think of data as raw facts and figures. Think of information as something someone wants to know.

On page 11, the text presents an illustration of this process. A clerk operates a point of sale system, inputting a customer's purchases at a restaurant. The computer system would need to be told what was purchased. Most such systems would "know" the prices of individual items, so the clerk enters only how many of each item. The system processes the order, calculates the bill, and produces a printed output of the bill for the customer (and probably an electronic version for the store).

The chapter offers several lists of items. These lists should be considered examples of common types of things, not as complete lists.


  • desktops
  • laptops
  • tablets
  • servers

Mobile devices and game devices are grouped together, perhaps because you can play games on most mobile devices.

  • smartphones
  • digital cameras
  • portable media players
  • e-book readers
  • game consoles

A question: is there anything in the list above that a smartphone can't do?

The chapter discusses common input devices, which should be familiar to most students:

  • keyboards
  • pointing devices: mice, touchpads, touch screens
  • microphones
  • cameras
  • scanners

Common output devices are listed:

  • displays: on phones, on laptops, on digital cameras, on tablets, on monitors connected to anything
  • speakers and headphones
  • printers

Another question: if my printer outputs images sent by my computer, isn't it receiving input too? If I plug a chip holding pictures into a slot in the printer, and tell the printer what and how to print, isn't the printer doing some processing?

A common feature of digital devices is the area in which they store data and instructions: their memory.

  • Digital devices typically load data into one section of memory and instructions (programs) into another.
  • Data and processed data (information) may be placed in storage in between uses, but must be loaded into memory to be used
  • Typically, memory means the random access, dynamic area that the processor needs while it it doing something.

When we want to hold data or information for a longer time (more than a few minutes), we use storage media. (Okay, pay attention. Media is a plural noun. Medium is the singular form. Your book does not seem to know this. You can know more than the book!)

Examples of storage media:

  • hard disks (also called hard drives)
  • solid state drives (all electronic, no spinning platters)
  • USB Flash drives (They have nothing to do with the Adobe product for showing animation. We should talk in class about it.)
  • memory cards (various sizes and types)
  • optical discs (Notice the difference in spelling for no good reason. The book is right, it is people that are silly.)
  • cloud storage (Really? Do the authors think some magic is used in the cloud, and not some variation on the methods above?)

I suppose that the authors make a distinction between cloud storage and the other types in this list because you can't hold it in your hand?

The text turns to a discussion of the Internet that will continue in the next chapter. Basic points:

  • the Internet (always capitalized) is the collective network that exists by connecting many networks of many types, including commercial, governmental, educational, non-profit, and individual
  • the World Wide Web (also called the web) is only one part of the Internet, although it is the part most users see and know
  • a web page is essentially a document, available on the web, that can be displayed in a browser, software created to use the web
  • a web site is collection of web pages that are related in some way, such as all the pages created by me and accessed through my web address
  • a web server is a server that is running specific software, connected to one or more networks, to provide access to web pages or other servers
  • web sites are characterized by graphics (pictures, art, images) and graphic user interfaces (GUIs)
  • a search engine is a program or collection of programs that help a user find information and web sites, typically on the Internet; some search engines share the name of the company that created them (Google, Yahoo) while others do not (Bing, Dogpile); the link in the line above will take you to a list of popular search engines
  • social networks are more recent developments; people become members so they can post information that is sent to other members who may find it fascinating, exciting, useful, or pointless; lots of people feel they have something to say, but that does not guarantee other people want to see, hear, or read it

The text briefly discusses digital safety and security. We will get another chapter on this, as well as several classes if you are in that curriculum. Some topics in that area that people should know about:

  • viruses and malware - how should you protect your computer?
  • privacy - can you keep private information private?
  • health concerns - typically a variation on the privacy topic, this can include ergonomics and human safety
  • environmental issues - disposal of computer and digital equipment involves disposing of toxic materials

The text discusses several aspects of software:

  • it finally mentions that there a is difference between operating systems (programs that run the computer, and provide basic services, like saving and copying files) and applications (programs that allow you to do something specific, like write documents or cruise the web)
  • software has to be installed, and typically has to be set up (configured) before it can be used
  • using a program is also called running it, although it is more correct to say that the computer is running the program while you are using it
  • historically, programs have had several types of user interfaces, the best known ones being character based (text based) and graphic based (mouse or touch based)

As a job related fact, the text mentions that computer programmers may also be called software developers. It says that application developer is also a common term, but we should remember that applications are not the whole story. There are also developers for operating systems and interfaces.

Several computer technologies can be grouped under the heading of communications.

  • This includes any technology that involves establishing and maintaining connections between devices, and sending data or information from one to another.
  • You should review the list of communication technologies given in the text for discussion in class.
  • Communications can include networking, cabling, wireless technologies, and any kind of device used in these areas.

The text mentions three wireless technologies. It is good to know some of the differences between them:

  • Wi-Fi - generally used for short range connection to a network, such as connecting a smartphone to a local network to get access to the Internet (example: free Wi-Fi connection at a restaurant or store); the effective range of a Wi-Fi hot spot (access point) varies with the variety of equipment being used: check the range material in article I have linked to, and you will see figures like 35 meters indoors, and 100 meters outdoors
  • Bluetooth - a very short range technology, often on the order of 10 feet, frequently used to link two devices together, such as linking a head-set or ear-bud/microphone to a smartphone
  • Cellular radio - By this, I presume your book means cellular networks, such as those used by major wireless telephone service providers. You should know basic information about them at this stage, such as needing to have an authorized connection to a vendor's system in order to use a cell phone. (Yes, a cell phone uses radio waves to work. Microwaves.)

The text continues with a short discussion of networks. Its definition leaves off an important part. Let's try this instead.

Networking can be defined with five features:

  • users sharing resources (like printers or files)
  • across a common medium (like copper wire or fiber optic cable)
  • by way of specific rules (like TCP/IP or other network protocols)

The text lists some uses that businesses have for networks, which fit well with the general definition above. The uses listed for home networks also include games, music, and other features that are not often welcome in a business environment.

The text provides a discussion of the uses of technology in society. It may suggest some uses that you have not seen or used yourself, but the main idea is that technology can improve most aspects of life, commerce, and recreation. The world is different now that most of us have a cell phone/camera/calculator/game machine/Internet access device in our pocket or on our belt. For those of you who have never lived in a world without such things, watch some old movies, and you may see some of the differences.