Monday, January 21, 2013


A Journey to the Centre of the Internet

Following that cord from your computer to the 'internet' is the general idea behind this book. What would it look like? How does it actually work? Good idea, me thinks. Andrew Blum does a great job at describing it all. But, (yes, a big but)...this would have made a lovely magazine article. As it turns out making a book about it was taking it just a few steps too far.
Overall, there is very little to the 'internet'; little variety that is. The internet is huge and spreads across the entire globe, but, as it turns out there is really only wire and a surprisingly low number of routers. This books shows us that...from a dozen different angles.
Turns out if you send an email from your computer it goes through your home router, down a wire, to the local provider's router, down some more wire, to an 'exchange' (code for another router), where it goes along some more wire, to another exchange (aka router), along even more wire, to the last router, where it is pushed up a wire to its destination. So, let me sum it up in easy-speak-chant : 

*clears throat* wire, router, wire, router, wire, router, wire, router...

There. That is pretty much the bones of this book. 

Blum tries to add some interesting guts to these bones, but, he doesn't have much to work with. He describes the uniform routers and wire that make up the internet in extreme detail and poetic prose, but, again I can sum it up in easy-speak-chant:

*clears throat* black cable, blinky router lights, yellow cable, blinky router lights, thick cable, blinky router lights, underwater cable, blinky router lights...

Even when he starts to describe the people who work on the 'internet', they are surprisingly bland - computer nerds in hoodies leaning over a laptop (they all seem to have very little social skills as well). There is one spark of life when Blum goes on an overnight shift with some blue collar cable layers under the streets of NYC. But, for the most part the IT people sounded very boring.

I was left hoping for more. Again, Blum does a great job at describing the limited parts of the internet, I can picture how beautiful a refrigerator sized router can look bathed in the soft glow of fluorescent lights, but, you can only read so much of the same thing. It wasn't his words that were repetitive, it was the content. I'd say read Andrew Blum, but, just not this book.


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