The Internet or the Net is a collection of computers, all link together, to share information globally. It was first developed in the U.S. by two universities who were both working on the same contract and wanted to share their data. They were faxing information back and forth and then retyping it until they came up with a piece of software called Unix to Unix Copy Program or UUCP.
The Internet was born and has mushroomed outward from that point.
There are 4 things that are necessary to "get on the net" with a full graphic interface (picture, sounds, animation, etc...).
Once you have purchased an account with an ISP you will be given an account name. This is often your email address as well. You will either be given a temporary password with instructions on how to change your password to a unique and personalized one or provide the service with one that should be change as soon as possible. Protect your password as you would any personal identification number (PIN) number.
The ISP will also provide information on how to configure your software. This can be simple or difficult depending on your Operating System. Once configured you simply run the software to connect your computer's modem to the ISP's modem, giving you access to the Internet.
There are a number of pieces of software that work together to connect you to the Internet.
The first and most complicated is the dialer or socket software. This is the software that makes the physical connection with the ISP's computer and needs to be configured only once but you will need instructions from your ISP on how to do this as each ISP has a different setup.
The second piece is an Internet browser. This is the program that locates websites for you and allows users to maneuver around (surf) the World Wide Web and view web pages. The two most popular today are AOL's Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer though Mosaic was the first and still used by some people. There are also a number of different ones and new ones being developed every once in a while. Some ISP have a priority type of browser though many have given up this practice as it limits the users abilities to browse the Internet.
Instructions for getting this software can be obtained from your ISP though you may have to download the newest version yourself.
There are many different ISPs. If you attend a university or college or belong to a military or government organization you can most likely get Internet access through your school or work. If not you will most likely buy access from a commercial provider.
Another option, if you are in a major center, is the Freenet. Many major cities have groups devoted to making the Internet accessible to the greater majority of people and create Freenets which allowing members free access to the Internet. They run on private and public donations. It is an excellent way of learning about the Internet in a helpful environment.