How do kids conceive the internet? - part 2

I promised a follow up to my post about interviews about how children conceptualize the internet. Here it is. (Maybe not the last one!)

The internet, it’s that thing that acts up all the time, right?

As said in my first post, I abandoned the idea to interview children younger than 9 years because it seems they are not necessarily aware that they are using the internet. But it turns out that some do have heard about the internet. My friend Anna, who has 9 younger siblings, tried to win some of her brothers and sisters for an interview with me. At the dinner table, this turned into a discussion and she sent me an incredibly funny video where two of her brothers and sisters, aged 5 and 6, discuss with her about the internet. I won’t share the video for privacy reasons — besides, the kids speak in the wondrous dialect of Vorarlberg, a region in western Austria, close to the border with Liechtenstein.

Here’s a transcription of the dinner table discussion:

  • Anna: what is the internet?
  • both children: (shouting as if it was a game of who gets it first) photo! mobile! device! camera!
  • Anna: But one can have a camera without the internet…
  • M.: Internet is the mobile phone charger! Mobile phone full!
  • J.: Internet is… internet is…
  • M.: I know! Internet is where you can charge something, the mobile phone and…
  • Anna: You mean electricity?
  • M.: Yeah, that is the internet, electricity!
  • Anna: (laughs), Yes, the internet works a bit similarly, true.
  • J.: It’s the electricity of the house!
  • Anna: The electricity of the house…

(everyone is talking at the same time now.)

  • Anna: And what’s WiFi?
  • M.: WiFi it’s the TV!
  • Anna (laughs)
  • M.: WiFi is there so it doesn’t act up!
  • Anna (laughs harder)
  • J. (repeats what M. just said): WiFi is there so it doesn’t act up!
  • Anna: So that what doesn’t act up?
  • M.: (moves her finger wildly drawing a small circle in the air) So that it doesn’t spin!
  • Anna: Ah?
  • M.: When one wants to watch something on Youtube, well then… that the thing doesn’t spin like that!
  • Anna: Ahhh! so when you use Youtube, you need the internet, right?
  • J.: Yes, so that one can watch things.

A black screen with a spinning circle in the background

I really like how the kids associate the internet with a thing that works all the time, except for when it doesn’t work. Then they notice: “The internet is acting up!” Probably, when that happens, parents or older siblings say: “the internet is acting up” or “let me check why the internet acts up again” and maybe they get up from the sofa, switch a home router on and off again, which creates this association with electricity.

(Just for the sake of clarity for fellow multilingualist readers, the kids used the German word “spinnen”, which I translated to “acting up”. In French that would be “déconner”.)

WiFi for everyone!

I interviewed another of Anna’s siblings, a 10 year old boy. He told me that he does not really use the internet by himself yet, and does not own any internet capable device. He watches when older family members look up stuff on Google, or put on a video on Youtube, Netflix, or Amazon — he knew all these brand names though. In the living room, there’s Alexa, he told me, and he uses the internet by asking Alexa to play music.

Then I say: Alexa, play this song!

Interestingly, he knew that, in order to listen to a CD, the internet was not needed.

When asked how a drawing would look like that explains the internet, he drew a scheme of the living room at home, with the TV, Alexa, and some kind of WiFi dongle, maybe a repeater. (Unfortunately I did not manage to get his drawing.)

If he could ask a wise and friendly dragon one thing about the internet that he always wanted to know, he would ask “How much internet can one have and what are all the things one can do with the internet?”

If he could change the internet for the better for everyone, he would build a gigantic building which would provide the entire world with WiFi. ☺

Cut out the stupid stuff from the internet

His slightly older sister does own a laptop and a smartphone. She uses the internet to watch movies, or series, to talk with her friends, or to listen to music.

When asked how she would explain the internet to an alien, she said that

one can do a lot of things on the internet, but on the internet there can be stupid things, but also good things, one can learn stuff on the internet, for example how to do crochet.

Most importantly, she noticed that

one needs the internet nowadays.

A child's drawing. On the left, a smartphone with WhatsApp, saying 'calls with WhatsApp'. In the middle a TV saying 'watching movies'. On the right, a laptop with lots of open windowns.

Her drawing shows how she uses the internet: calls using WhatsApp, watching movies online, and a laptop with open windows on the screen.

She would ask the dragon that can explain one thing she always wanted to know about the internet:

What is the internet? How does it work at all? How does it function?

What she would change has to do with her earlier remark about stupid things:

I would make it so that there are less stupid things. It would be good to use the internet for better things, but not for useless things, that one doesn’t actually need.

When I asked her what she meant by “stupid things”, she replied:

Useless videos where one talks about nonsense. And one can also google stupid things, for example “how long will i be alive?” and stuff like that.


From the interviews I made until now, there seems to be a cut between then age where kids don’t own a device and use the internet to watch movies, series or listen to music and the age where they start owning a device and then they start talking to their friends, and create accounts on social media. This seems to happen roughly at ages 9-10.

I’m still surprised at the amount of ideas that kids have, when asked what they would change on the internet if they could. I’m sure there’s more if one goes looking for it.


Thanks to my friends who made all these interviews possible either by allowing me to meet their children, or their younger siblings: Anna, Christa, Aline, Cindy, and Martina.