When Andrew Blum's Internet service stopped working a few years ago, he was told it could be the result of a squirrel chewing on the fiber lines running into his neighborhood. Though the connection eventually returned, Blum was left with nagging questions about the physicality of the Internet: How could something so ethereal, so intangible, be impacted by something so physical, so mundane? And so began Blum's journey to the center of the Internet, as detailed in Tubes--a book that took me weeks to read, as I had to stop every few pages to ponder the implications of it all. And to shout to my husband, "OHMYGOD DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS!?" To which he always responded, very calmly, "Of course I did. Stop shouting." (He won't admit it, but he didn't actually know about all of it.)
Blum, a correspondent for Wired, begins with the creation of the Internet, noting that despite the groundbreaking nature of the moment, it was actually a little-understood moment in technological history. Like oxygen, the Internet is not something we question, but something we take for granted. Tubes, with its detailed account of everything from the physical structures of the network to the practicalities of laying fiber underground, changes that, giving readers a newfound appreciation of the networks that have changed our way of life to the very core. Blum's uncovering of the physical nature of the Internet also gives readers new insight into how it came to be the way it is: why Google has buildings in certain locations, why collaboration is so critical to the Internet's continued success or how one woman with a shovel can accidentally knock the entire country of Armenia offline (that really happened, by the way).
Tubes is fascinating reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the Internet--and since you're here reading this on a blog (or in a reader, or on your phone, or whatever the case may be), that means you. Mind. Blown.
Thoughts from other bookworms:
Tubes | Andrew Blum | Ecco Press | Hardcover | May 2012 | Buy from an independent near you