Andrew Blum: What is the Internet, really?

19 Sept 201211:59
32 Likes 10 Comments

TLDRThe speaker, an architecture writer, reflects on the shift from experiencing physical buildings and cities to engaging with the immaterial world of the Internet. He narrates his journey to understand the physical reality behind the digital realm, visiting data centers and crucial network hubs. He highlights the importance of undersea cables that connect continents, emphasizing the surprisingly tangible and intricate process behind the seemingly intangible Internet, and argues for a greater awareness of the physical infrastructure that supports our digital lives.

  • 🏗️ The physical manifestation of the Internet can be seen in the architecture of buildings and cities, which are tangible and experiential.
  • 📱 The speaker's relationship with the physical world changed significantly with the advent of smartphones and constant internet connectivity.
  • 🌐 The Internet, despite being an intangible concept, has a very real, physical presence through its infrastructure.
  • 🔍 The search for the physical Internet led to the realization that it's not just a metaphorical 'black box' but a network of cables and data centers.
  • 🌍 The Internet connects the global village through undersea cables that span vast distances under the oceans.
  • 🚀 The process of laying undersea cables is surprisingly simple and involves light transmission across vast distances.
  • 🌊 Undersea cables are crucial for global connectivity, and their maintenance requires intensive and physical labor.
  • 🔌 The importance of a few key buildings, like 60 Hudson Street in New York, as hubs for Internet connectivity cannot be overstated.
  • 🛠️ The physicality of the Internet is highlighted by the hands-on work of engineers and technicians in connecting and maintaining the network.
  • 🌐 The expansion of Internet infrastructure, especially in Africa, is transforming the landscape of global connectivity.
  • 💡 Awareness of the physical components of the Internet is essential to understand our digital world and maintain a sense of responsibility for it.
Q & A
  • What is the main focus of the speaker's previous writings?

    -The speaker primarily wrote about architecture and buildings, focusing on how architects design spaces that become places or cities.

  • How has the speaker's relationship with the physical world changed over the years?

    -The speaker's relationship with the physical world has changed as they spent more time in front of computer screens and using an iPhone, leading to a constant division of attention between the digital world and the physical surroundings.

  • What was the surprising realization the speaker had about the Internet?

    -The speaker was surprised to realize that the Internet, which they perceived as a transcendent and intangible idea, does have a physical reality that can be affected by something as mundane as a squirrel chewing on cables.

  • What did the speaker learn about the Internet after their internet broke?

    -After their internet broke, the speaker learned about the physical infrastructure of the Internet, including the vast network of cables, data centers, and the process of connecting networks through physical cables and fiber optics.

  • How does the speaker describe the physical process of connecting networks?

    -The speaker describes it as a physical process where routers from different networks connect using yellow fiber optic cables, involving intimate and precise alignment of hair-thin fibers in a highly technical and sophisticated manner.

  • What is the significance of the undersea cables mentioned in the script?

    -The undersea cables are significant because they physically connect different continents and regions, enabling global communication and forming the backbone of the Internet as a global phenomenon.

  • How does the speaker describe the experience of witnessing a new undersea cable being laid?

    -The speaker describes it as an enlightening experience that transforms the abstract concept of the Internet into a tangible, physical reality, highlighting the intensive, physical labor and technology involved in connecting continents through data cables.

  • What is the role of the English engineers in the undersea cable industry?

    -The English engineers play a crucial role in the undersea cable industry, with many of them having started around the same time about 20 years ago and now dominating the industry. They are involved in planning, laying, and maintaining the cables that connect the world digitally.

  • Why does the speaker believe it's important for people to understand the physical aspects of the Internet?

    -The speaker believes it's important because understanding the physical aspects of the Internet connects us more directly to the technology we use daily, making us more aware of its origins, infrastructure, and the work that enables our digital experiences.

  • What does the speaker suggest about the perception of the cloud?

    -The speaker suggests that the concept of the cloud can lead to a detachment from the physical reality of the Internet. By recognizing the physical infrastructure, we maintain a sense of responsibility and connection to the digital content we store and use.

  • How does the speaker describe the cultural and geographical continuity in the Internet's physical infrastructure?

    -The speaker notes that despite the sophistication of modern technology, the physical process of laying cables and connecting networks has roots in longstanding cultural practices and continues to involve classic port cities around the world.

🏗️ The Physicality of the Digital World

The speaker, an architecture writer, reflects on the shift from experiencing architecture to becoming engrossed in the digital realm, particularly after acquiring an iPhone in 2007. The speaker notes the profound change in our relationship with the physical world due to constant digital engagement. Despite the intangible nature of the internet, the speaker discovers a tangible aspect when their internet service is disrupted by a squirrel chewing on the cables. This incident sparks curiosity about the physical infrastructure of the internet and leads to a two-year exploration of the internet's real-world presence, including large data centers and crucial network junctions like 60 Hudson Street in New York.

🌐 Undersea Cables: The Global Village's Lifelines

The speaker focuses on the undersea cables that enable global connectivity, emphasizing their small physical presence contrasted with their vast reach across oceans. These cables, which are as thin as a garden hose yet span thousands of miles, facilitate the transmission of light signals that carry massive amounts of data. The process of laying these cables is highlighted, including the use of landing stations and amplifiers on the ocean floor. The speaker also discusses the growth of internet infrastructure in Africa, with multiple cables now connecting the continent, and the importance of reliable, permanent connections for countries to build their digital industries.

🔌 The Human and Physical Side of the Internet

The speaker delves into the process of physically connecting the undersea cables to the mainland, describing the meticulous work of engineers and technicians. The transformation of the internet from a cloud-based concept to a tangible, physical entity is emphasized, as is the historical continuity of the physical processes involved. The speaker argues for a greater awareness and understanding of the physical infrastructure that supports our digital lives, advocating that those who are 'wired' should also be knowledgeable about the 'wires' that make their connectivity possible.

Architecture refers to the art and science of designing and constructing buildings. In the context of the video, it is used metaphorically to discuss the design and structure of the physical spaces that make up our cities. The speaker contrasts the tangible nature of architecture with the intangible nature of the digital world.
💡Sense of Place
Sense of place refers to the unique character or atmosphere of a location that makes it distinct and memorable. The video emphasizes the importance of experiencing the physical world and its sense of place, which is often lost in the digital realm.
💡Digital World
The digital world refers to the virtual or online environment created by computer technology and the internet. The video discusses the shift in human interaction from the physical world to the digital world, highlighting the intangibility and disconnection from physical reality.
💡Physical Reality
Physical reality pertains to the tangible, material existence of objects and environments. The video contrasts the palpable nature of physical reality with the abstract nature of the digital world, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the physical infrastructure that supports our online activities.
💡Internet Infrastructure
Internet infrastructure refers to the physical components and systems that support the operation of the internet, such as data centers, undersea cables, and routers. The video highlights the vast, often overlooked, physical network that enables the digital connectivity we experience online.
💡Undersea Cables
Undersea cables are the submarine telecommunications lines that carry telecommunication signals across oceans and seas. They are crucial for global internet connectivity, connecting different continents and facilitating international data exchange. The video underscores the significance of these cables in creating a 'global village'.
💡Global Connectivity
Global connectivity refers to the interconnection of people, devices, and networks across the globe, facilitated by the Internet and telecommunications technologies. The video discusses the impact of global connectivity on society and the physical infrastructure that makes it possible.
💡Telepresence System
A telepresence system is a technology that allows people to have real-time, face-to-face communication over long distances, often through video conferencing. The video uses the telepresence system as a metaphor for the speaker's remote interaction with Simon Cooper, highlighting the digital tools that facilitate global communication.
💡Cultural Imagination
Cultural imagination refers to the ability to envision and conceptualize the world and its diverse cultures in expansive and nuanced ways. In the video, the speaker is fascinated by Simon Cooper's geographic imagination, which allows him to think about global connectivity and the placement of undersea cables in a broad and strategic manner.
💡Physical Process
A physical process is a series of actions or steps that involve tangible, material components. The video emphasizes the physical processes involved in connecting networks and laying undersea cables, which are foundational to the digital world.
In the context of the video, 'the cloud' refers to the virtual space where data and services are stored and accessed over the internet, rather than on local computers or servers. The speaker argues that the concept of the cloud can lead to a detachment from the physical realities and responsibilities associated with digital infrastructure.

The speaker, an architecture writer, observes a shift in his experience from physical buildings to digital spaces.

The realization that the speaker's relationship with the physical world changed due to increased screen time.

The contrast between the physical, tangible nature of architecture and the intangible nature of the digital world.

The anecdote of the squirrel chewing on the Internet cable, illustrating the unexpected physicality of the Internet.

The exploration of the Internet as a place that can be visited, contrary to common perceptions.

The description of the Internet's physical infrastructure, including data centers and network connections.

The significance of 60 Hudson Street in New York as a critical Internet network connection point.

The importance of undersea cables in connecting continents and enabling the global village concept.

The detailed process of how undersea cables are laid across oceans and connected to land.

The physicality of the Internet's infrastructure, emphasizing the need to understand its tangible components.

The historical and cultural continuity in the process of laying undersea cables, despite technological advancements.

The impact of connecting a continent to the Internet, highlighting the physical moment of 'plugging in' a continent.

The description of the West Africa Cable System (WACS) and its significance in expanding Internet connectivity.

The behind-the-scenes look at the physical process of connecting a new undersea cable to the land.

The importance of understanding the physical origins of the Internet to maintain a connection to it.

The call to awareness about the physical infrastructure of the cloud and the responsibility we have towards it.

The conclusion emphasizing the need for wired individuals to be knowledgeable about the physical wires that connect us all.

Rate This

5.0 / 5 (0 votes)

Thanks for rating: