Off to the Center of the Internet

Andrew Blum's "Tubes" - a tour of the underlying infrastructure making our connected lifes possible.

We don't think about it too much. We open our laptops or take out our smartphones, enter some address or open an app, and a fraction of a second later what we want to see appears on our screen. The bits and bytes are hidden under layers upon layers of abstraction, making it possible for everyone and their grandmother (sort of, anyway) to make use of all the possibilities this new interconnectedness has given us.

US senator Ted Stevens famously failed at understanding, let alone explaining the internet in discussions about net neutrality in a statement that has gone viral (and in fact been an inspiration to the title of this book), calling the internet a "series of tubes". But he was right about one thing: The fact that, underneath all the applications, signals needed to travel from A to B, and back. This is, in a nutshell, what this book is about.

Andrew Blum, a Journalist whose work has been published in the likes of Wired magazine and the Wall Street Journal, set out on a journey to "visit the internet" - that is to see the underlying infrastructure that actually makes our abundance of data go where it needs to go.

Starting from his home internet connection in New York, he traveled the world in search of submarine fiber-optic connections, internet exchanges and their routers as well as data centers storing what me, you and everyone else put online every day when we use the services we've become so accustomed to.

While the lengthy descriptions of places and their surroundings are at times a bit overbearing, they also help set the mood and strengthen the realization that, behind all the user interfaces and mobile devices, are very real material places and an enormous amount of physical infrastructure we seldom think about or even realize exists.

In skipping technical details, this book ends up being a highly interesting overview of the internet's vital infrastructure and a great read for anyone interested in information technology, but also how our world works in general.


Tubes: A Joruney to the Center of the Internet on Amazon