Ingrid Burrington’s Networks of New York begins with a simple enough question: “How do you see the Internet?” Ingrid then explores just how shortsighted our understanding of that question quite probably is. I’ve heard the distinction made before that the web sits on top of the Internet; we use the web via URLs and webpages but we access it all with that mostly underground system of physical wires and cables. So the web is basically a tin can whilst the Internet is the string in between that one and another.
Ingrid argues that thinking about that infrastructure is important because it helps us understand our world:
Sometimes people who want to learn about seeing Internet infrastructure ask me to tell them “where the Internet lives.” At first glance, this seems like a bit of a misnomer—the Internet isn’t a static object, it’s defined by the constant movement of information. It doesn’t “live” anywhere; it’s already everywhere at once…
Ingrid’s description here sounds like the beginning of a horror movie, almost as if human society has been infected with this new kind of infrastructure or something. However, Ingrid admits that although thinking about the Internet can be frightening – what with its sheer vastness and globe-trotting scale – it’s important not to forget that it’s also a miracle. Ingrid writes:
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It’s weirdly comforting, inspiring even, to walk down Sixth Avenue with the knowledge that buried underneath my feet is a fiber optic cable that is carrying conversations, photographs, stories, secrets, and lives as beams of light through hair-thin strands of glass.