Welcome to www.comprofessor.com a.k.a. Lynch Coaching: Media and Communication Prof's News and Views from Art Lynch. This blog exists to stimulate critical thinking, provide information on communication and media, stimulate discussion and share ideas. For additional media and other news see also sagactoronline.com. Thank you and tell your friends. - Art Lynch
Increasingly, Internet users are working "in the
cloud" — creating and sending data that isn't stored on local hard
drives. It's easy to imagine our emails and photos swirling around in
cyberspace without a physical home — but that's not really how it works.
Those files are still stored somewhere, but you can only find them if you know where to look.
journalist Andrew Blum goes on a journey inside the Internet's physical
infrastructure to uncover the buildings and compounds where our data is
stored and transmitted. Along the way, he documents the spaces where
the Internet first started, and the people who've been working to make
the Web what it is today.
Blum tells Fresh Air's
Terry Gross that the Internet can be thought of as three separate
entities: data centers that store information, Internet exchange points
where networks meet to exchange data with each other, and fiber-optic
cables that connect all of the information traveling between cities and
Blum calls these fiber-optic cables, many of which traverse the ocean bottom, the "most poetic places of the Internet."
about the thickness of a garden hose, and they're filled with a handful
of strands of fiber-optic cable," he says. "And light goes in one end
of the ocean and out the other end of the ocean. And that light is
accelerated along its journey by repeaters that look like bluefin tuna
The repeaters and the
fiber-optic cables extend for thousands of miles below the ocean's
surface, along the same routes where other telecommunication cables have
been placed for decades. Blum, who watched one of the fiber-optic
cables emerge from the sea in Lisbon, says the process hasn't changed
much over the decades.
"I saw pictures from
[a telegraph] museum in England where the pictures from 100 years
earlier looked exactly the same," he says. "The Englishmen in their hats
were watching the laborers digging in the wet trench, pulling the
cables up. So the technology has changed but the culture hasn't changed,
and the points being connected haven't changed much."
Courtesy Andrew Blum Journalist Andrew Blum writes about architecture, design, technology, urbanism, art and travel. He lives in New York City.
In the States, many of the trans-Atlantic cables
coming from Europe terminate in an art deco-style office building at 60
Hudson St. in New York City. More than 100 telecommunications companies
have offices in the building, which contains more than 70 million feet
of cable wire.
"It's essentially a
building-sized jumble of wires," says Blum. "It's been [a very important
building] for the telephone as well. So there's this mix of very
high-tech, high-capacity, brand-new machines, and then these old banks
of copper wires and switches. ... And the contrast is incredible. It's
amazing that we think of the Internet as a high-tech, sterile place, and
this place is the complete opposite."
fact, Manhattan is full of buildings containing key parts of the
Internet, says Blum. In 2010, Google acquired 111 8th Ave., a block-long
building in Chelsea that sits almost directly on top of large bundles
of fiber-optic cables. The building is designed to allow tenants to
connect to these fiber-optic lines directly.
that autonomy to connect — to do whatever they want and to make their
own decisions about how they're connecting to other networks that allows
the Internet to be both robust and cheap," says Blum.
Even though there's some potential risk involved, Blum believes the locations of these data centers will never become secret.
Internet is all about one network connecting to another network. It's
the space in between that makes it come alive," he says. "And if you're
secret — if you try to hide where you are — then you essentially can't
function as a network on the Internet because nobody knows where you
are. And if you're in the business of selling your connection, then you
have no business at all if you won't tell anyone where it is."
On the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens saying the Internet is made up of "a series of tubes."
not wrong. The Internet is absolutely made of tubes. What else could it
be made of? It's many other things — these protocols and languages and
machines and a whole set of fantastically complex layers and layers of
computing power that feeds the Internet every day. But if you think of
the world in physical terms, and you're trying to be as reductive as
possible and try to understand what this is, there's no way around it —
these are tubes. And from the very first moment, from the basement of a
building in Milwaukee to Facebook's high-tech, brand-new data center,
and along the ceiling and the walls, are these steel conduits. But I
know a tube when I see one."
On the makeup of the Internet
Internet has parts and pieces. We think of it as this singular whole,
and we use the word 'cloud' as a crutch to avoid thinking about the
specific parts; but, in fact, it is as singular as anything else."
On visiting Facebook's data center, located in central Oregon
was an interesting place to be because I realized that this was a place
that was connected to some of the most important moments of my friends'
lives. This was the place from which announcements of weddings and
family members' deaths and new jobs and new babies came from, so there
was a real disconnect between the sense of it being a building full of
machines and the emotional importance that it had on my life."
On replacing existing infrastructure
fiber-optics cables are essentially glass tubes, you can replace the
flashlight on the end with a newer model, and that will transmit more
data. So you can keep the same actual fiber, replace the equipment on
either end, and suddenly you've increased the capacity by an order or
even two orders of magnitude. So that's a start. That will get us a few
years down the road. But then it's a constant gardening process. It's
replacing the old ones and putting in new ones."
On researching Google and Facebook
of all of the companies I spoke with, Google was the one that shared
the least. Facebook, in contrast, was the opposite. They believed that
this was your data. You, the public, had a right to understand where it
was and what they did with it."
For similar stories and links click on "read more" below.