(Planet Me)
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Tubes, Michael Blum

As the old adage went, some people just don't know what the Internet is - "A series of Tubes", indeed, Although, without thinking about it, the Internet is just there. It has transformed our world in terms of communication, placing the a vast amount of information ; mostly harmless, of course - at our fingertips. In fact, the major giants of the Internet, Amazon, Google, and so forth, are starting to change the way we think. Who needs to remember how to do something technical : JGI, Just Google It, and it is there for you. But increasingly, and unthinkingly, the Internet is a series of tubes : a form of information plumbing where individual ideas and mass communication flows like water.

In this fascinating tale, Andrew Blum takes the Internet for what it is, and unravels it - from the blinking box in your kitchen to the vast server farms in industrial estates in anonymous American towns that process 10,000 pictures a second. Chew that one over. Half a million naked women is not even one minute, in one cable. The fact is, even though the Internet appears on your screen as some form of magic, it is a physical, improvised structure that connects Chicago to Cardiff, Inverness to Idaho to India, Brisbane to Birmingham to Bali. When Blum takes us to the remote, and unsung terminus points on the coast where the huge offshore cables that sit thousands of feet at the ocean floor, quietly feeding us all the final episodes of some mega soap, the idle chitchat of the internet takes a tangible quality. All this information, and this review itself, exists under your feet right now, and like plumbing, water, gas cables, and the electricity conduit, are now largely invisible and unconsidered around us, molecules of air and water flowing around us. Like radio waves. This is the concept Blum successfully realises, to make the Internet a real, tangible thing and not even an abstract concept that sits nebulously in the back of our minds. If the internet is something you use, this will change how you see it forever.

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