So after four full days of discussing enterprise networking at Cisco Live, the last thing you’re likely to suspect I want to do is read still more about networks. You’d be wrong. Well, no. You’d be partly right. My brain was pretty full of technical information from the various sessions I attended, but networking is still a major part of my life and my interest in it happens on a number of levels.
While wandering around Orlando International Airport killing time while the thunderstorms blew over, I ran across the book Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum. Blum writes as a correspondent at Wired magazine. And in this book, he engages on a tour behind the scenes to identify the address of the Internet. Okay, that sounds a bit overly dramatic, given that the Internet is both everywhere and nowhere. It’s a concept, and an interconnected set of disparate systems. Blum’s goal is to try to gain access to some of the physical characteristics of this global phenomenon as possible.
“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.” The Economist
This is a book about real places on the map: what those places sound like, what they smell like. Who lives there. Blum describes the history of the locations he visits– from converted telegraph exchanges in Manhattan to freshly-constructed datacenters in the American west to the cool rationality of Frankfurt’s Internet exchange. It’s a travelogue, certainly. But it’s a travelogue to a find the location of a place that for most of us, most of the time, is ephemera. Quixotic, enigmatic, and often essential ephemera.