Picturing the Internet

Animated gif graphic with laptop icon and cloud

In 2006, U.S. Senator Ted Stevens famously declared the internet was “a series of tubes” used to “deliver vast amounts of information.”

While the bullet points of Senator Stevens’ over-simplification didn’t land well at the time, it helps to illuminate, even today, how well most of us don’t understand what’s happening when we go online, open an email, send something to the cloud, or even stream videos from Netflix.

We asked 100 Americans to show us, in their own style, how they saw the internet – from the colors and textures that first come to mind to what’s really happening up in the cloud. Continue reading to see what techies and non-techies alike came up with when asked to draw the internet.  

Imagining the Internet

We all know what it looks like to log on to Facebook or open an email, but what takes place behind the scenes when using the internet? This is what 100 Americans said the World Wide Web looked like to them.

In reality, the internet connects us through our computers, cellphones, and tablets to other people across the world. From social networking to online forums, you could hold a conversation with a person in China while sitting in your living room in New York City. This level of connectedness showed up in a majority of the visualizations Americans drew for us.

In a few of the images sent to us, President Donald Trump was used as a symbol for the internet today. President Trump has drawn attention thanks to his use of social media (particularly Twitter) to help drive his political agenda. While some of the president’s tweets may have landed him in hot water in the past, they still help showcase the evolution of the internet today and the unique way online platforms like Twitter can connect the world.

Some people saw the internet as a source of information by drawing it as an open book or as Earth. Many Americans included people in their drawings, symbolizing the human connection we share with our computers regularly.

Internet Skills

While more than 3.8 billion people around the world were online in 2017, one study found that as many as 13 percent of American adults don’t use the internet today. Another survey found that roughly 1 in 3 non-internet users said they didn’t use the internet because it was too difficult to understand, and another third had no interest.

For Americans using the web, 51 percent said it was to stay connected to people, and another 45 percent said it was to stay informed. A 2016 study revealed that more than a third of Americans today often get their news from online sources (including social media and news apps), despite a rising trend in “fake news” which can be shared more easily through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

So how do we tangibly visualize the intangible? For most Americans, the colors blue (81 percent), white (74 percent), and black (66 percent) came to mind, as well as an image of waves (43 percent) and fibers (35 percent).

The Myth, the Legend, the Cloud

Info graphic on how 100 Americans draw the cloud

One of the most confusing parts of the internet today may be something most users employ without even realizing it. Designed to make managing data on our devices easier, cloud-based technologies are even being adopted by businesses. These offload the work from your devices to a company’s computers to help automate processes and streamline production. If someone ever asked you what the cloud was and you weren’t fully sure how to answer that question – you’re not alone. One study found about 1 in 5 Americans fudged the truth when asked if they knew what the cloud was or how it worked.

We asked Americans to draw their interpretation of the cloud, and this is what they came up with.

While some saw the cloud as a literal description of how the cloud works online, some Americans drew their “clouds” with particles of data, information, and even “crap” inside them. We saw drawings of music, photographs, and secure information floating around inside these cartoon cloud translations. Still, not everyone had the same explanation. Some Americans drew question marks inside or around their clouds, while others didn’t even draw clouds at all.

In the Clouds

When we asked Americans how often they used the cloud, we found even more misconceptions about what it was and how it really worked. Less than 3 in 4 people said they used a cloud-based app or service. Of those who didn’t use it, 90 percent believed digital clouds were either somewhat safe or very unsafe.

In reality, cloud-based storage can be even more secure than conventional storage options – including the stuff you save on your computer’s hard drive. Even if you don’t use the cloud to back up your personal data, if you’ve ever uploaded a picture to Facebook, you’re using the cloud. For average users and businesses alike, leveraging the cloud to shoulder the workload on our computers and smart devices allows them to run more efficiently. These systems also tend to have some of the best security systems available, which are tasked with keeping your data safe from bad guys.

Internet Infections

Perhaps nothing is as dangerous or devastating in the world of computers and technology as the dreaded virus. A software program designed to latch onto other programs and piggyback off their coding, viruses can reproduce themselves as they transition through your computer or smart device and can be sent through downloads and email attachments.

Most Americans drew their viruses as literal interpretations of the name or the havoc they sometimes caused. Drawn as a monster, an evil face, or even a sick computer, Americans who did and didn’t consider themselves techies had a similar conceptualization of what a virus might look like if personified.

Interpreting the Virus

As with almost everything related to technology, the use and implication of computer viruses have evolved in recent years. While the use of ransomware viruses isn’t exactly new, it has been making headlines. Ransomware viruses infect a computer or database and hold the information hostage unless the user is willing to pay a ransom for it. This may sound crazy, but in the past year, HBO, Netflix, and Disney have all been victims of ransomware attempts – but multi-billion dollar companies aren’t the only ones being targeted by ransomware. Even the average internet user could be at risk from this new wave of internet viruses.  

More than a third of people polled associated the word “attack” with a computer virus, followed by “infects,” “destroys,” and “steals.” Unlike the internet (which was seen in colors of white and blue), participants associated darker colors like red (60 percent), black (48 percent), and green (26 percent) with a computer virus.

Making the Cloud Work for You

Regardless of how you rate your own level of technical savvy, if there are some elements of the internet you don’t fully understand – you aren’t alone. From the internet to the cloud and even computer viruses, the 100 Americans polled have very different opinions on how to represent these abstract concepts.  

When it comes to your business, don’t let the idea of the cloud confuse you. At Summit Hosting, we believe in simplifying the world of hosting to give you a better performance without any added stress. From our 24/7 support to our simple and intuitive design and best-in-class security, Summit Hosting will bring your business just about anywhere. Never worry about the safety of your data again (or what it means to store it in the cloud). To learn more, visit us online at SummitHosting.com.


We asked 100 Americans to imagine what the internet and various aspects of it might look like and then to submit drawings using Sketch.io. We asked participants to imagine and draw the internet, the cloud, and a virus. We also asked them questions about imagined colors, textures, and basic demographics.