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Tubes: Where is the Internet?

OPB | June 19, 2012 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 11:38 p.m.

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A few years back, a squirrel chewed through the cables connecting Andrew Blum‘s house to the internet, shutting off Blum’s access to the web. That woke Blum up to the physicality if the internet. As he puts it:

… As if in a fairy tale, the squirrel cracked open the door to a previously invisible realm behind the screen, a world of wires and the spaces in between.

Blum, like many others, thought of the internet basically as something that exists in the ether — an idea reinforced by terms like “the cloud” and “wireless.” The actual geography of the internet was unknown to him. So he set out to “map” it. He traveled from his house in Brooklyn, NY to internet exchanges in suburban Virginia. From there, he went to see an ocean cable being laid off the coast of Portugal and visited Google’s data servers in The Dalles, Oregon.

He discovered, despite Ted Stevens being roundly mocked for saying so, that the internet really is a series of tubes.

Though it’s difficult to find a way to map the whole internet, this map of Facebook’s global internet exchanges gives a pretty good sense of the Internet’s biggest hubs:

Map credit: Dave Blanchard / OPB with data from Facebook.

What questions do you have for Andrew Blum?

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