When your Internet cable leaves your living room, where does it go? Almost everything about our day-to-day lives—and the broader scheme of human culture—can be found on the Internet. But what is it physically? And where is it really? Our mental map of the network is as blank as the map of the ocean that Columbus carried on his first Atlantic voyage. The Internet, its material nuts and bolts, is an unexplored territory. Until now.
In Tubes, journalist Andrew Blum goes inside the Internet's physical infrastructure and flips on the lights, revealing an utterly fresh look at the online world we think we know. It is a shockingly tactile realm of unmarked compounds, populated by a special caste of engineer who pieces together our networks by hand; where glass fibers pulse with light and creaky telegraph buildings, tortuously rewired, become communication hubs once again. From the room in Los Angeles where the Internet first flickered to life to the caverns beneath Manhattan where new fiber-optic cable is buried; from the coast of Portugal, where a ten-thousand-mile undersea cable just two thumbs wide connects Europe and Africa, to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have built monumental data centers—Blum chronicles the dramatic story of the Internet's development, explains how it all works, and takes the first-ever in-depth look inside its hidden monuments.
This is a book about real places on the map: their sounds and smells, their storied pasts, their physical details, and the people who live there. For all the talk of the "placelessness" of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical spaces as the railroad or telephone. You can map it and touch it, and you can visit it. Is the Internet in fact "a series of tubes" as Ted Stevens, the late senator from Alaska, once famously described it? How can we know the Internet's possibilities if we don't know its parts?
Like Tracy Kidder's classic The Soul of a New Machine or Tom Vanderbilt's recent bestseller Traffic, Tubes combines on-the-ground reporting and lucid explanation into an engaging, mind-bending narrative to help us understand the physical world that underlies our digital lives.
About the Author
Andrew Blum, who studied human geography at the University of Toronto, is a correspondent at Wired magazine and a contributing editor at Metropolis. His work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, Saturday Night, BusinessWeek, Slate and Popular Science, among many other publications. He lives in New York City.
Praise for Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet…
“Fascinating and unique. . . . [A] captivating behind-the-scenes tour of how (and where) the Internet works. . . . [Blum] has a gift for breathing life into his subjects.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Every web site, every email, every instant message travels through real junctions in a real network of real cables. It’s all too awesome to behold. Andrew Blum’s fascinating book demystifies the earthly geography of this most ethereal terra incognita.”
-Joshua Foer, bestselling author of Moonwalking with Einstein
“Tubes is an absorbing tale of this new technology, as well as a wonderful account of the Internet’s growth and the people who made it possible.”
“Clever, enterprising . . . Tubes uncovers an Internet that resembles nothing so much as a fantastic steam-punk version of itself.”
“Engaging. . . . Full of memorable images that make the internet’s complex architecture easier to comprehend. . . . Blum leaves readers pondering questions that would not have occurred to them before and better informed about an innovation most of us take for granted.”
“A charming look at the physical infrastructure that underlies the Web.”
“A satisfying postmodern quest. . . . The history, in particular, is one of the best and most memorable I have ever read.”
“Blum paints a vivid picture of the Internet, and gives a sense that it is more than just the mysterious interstitial digital space between your computer and mine. It is, increasingly, the backbone that supports our daily life, and Mr. Blum is an able anatomist.”
-New York Journal of Books
“Quixotic and winning. . . . Valuable, comic. . . . [Blum has] a knack for bundling packets of data into memorable observations. What makes Tubes more than an unusual sort of travel book, is [Blum’s] sense of moral curiosity.”
-New York Times
“Ingeniously beguiling. . . . Blum is a smart, imaginative, evocative writer who embraces the task of making his readers feel the wonder represented by these unprepossessing objects.”
-Laura Miller, Salon
“An engaging reminder that, cyber-Utopianism aside, the internet is as much a thing of flesh and steel as any industrial-age lumber mill or factory. It is also an excellent introduction to the nuts and bolts of how exactly it all works.”
“A fascinating exploration of the physical nature of the Internet, and how the ‘network of networks’ came to be the way it is.”
“Engaging. . . . Blum is a natural storyteller.”
“Enlightening. . . . A zippy history of a phenomenon that, as a society, captivates us, connects us, and vexes us.”
“With infectious wonder, Blum introduces us to the Internet’s geeky wizards and takes us on an amiably guided tour of the world they’ve created, a world of wires and routers through which most of us daily wander . . . but which few of us have ever really seen.”
-Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck
“Compelling and profound. . . . For the first time, Tubes brings the ‘network of networks’ into stirring, and surprising, relief. You will never open an email in quite the same way again.”
-Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of Traffic
“A compelling story of an altogether new realm where the virtual world meets the physical.”
-Paul Goldberger, author of Why Architecture Matters
“At once funny, prosaic, sinister and wise . . . A beautifully written account of the true human cost of all our remote connectivity.”
-Bella Bathurst, author of The Lighthouse Stevensons