Book Review: Tubes: Behind The Scenes At The Internet
In this review we will be taking a look at the book “Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet”, by Andrew Blum, to be released on 7th June 2012 published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books (also available as a Penguin eBook). The author, Andrew Blum, is a correspondent at Wired magazine and has had work published in a number of other publications including “The New York Times”, so you might expect him to know a thing or two about the internet.
Getting Behind The Scenes At The Internet
So how is it possible to take a look behind the scenes for something as intangible as the internet? For us to get any real sense of the internet as a physical presence we can start by looking at our own computer, or mobile device, and follow the communication link back through our local environment. Perhaps we could trace this back to some kind of hub, router or wireless gateway somewhere, either at work, home, or some other place, and we could follow this connection further backwards until we hit another router, phone line, or some other mechanism for connecting to the “network”. Most likely, for home users and business users, this link may go back as the local telecommunications exchange.
But what happens next? What happens if we trace the path all the way back to its original source? Would we find a physical manifestation of “the internet” – the source? Or is the internet already all around us? And if so, what does it look like? Where does our information go? How does it get there? And how does it get back?
In the prologue of the book the author sets the scene for the investigation, describing the disconnect that occurred when a squirrel munched on a backyard cable, and this is where the story begins as summed up by the author, “Because this much I knew: the wire in the backyard led to another wire, and another behind that – beyond to a whole world of wires.” As a result of this disconnect Andrew Blum embarks upon a physical journey to find the very real internet, “You write an email. You hit send. It appears ten thousand miles away. How did that happen?”
Only many of these wires are actually fibre optic cables, long tubes filled with glass fibres, that carry light from one end to another in fractions of seconds. In 2006 Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska described the Internet as “a series of tubes,” and it is in this sense, of making this virtual world we know as the “internet” into something physical, that we can touch and feel, that the book aims to explore.
When talking about the topology of the Internet the author explains how the commonly accepted perception of the “information highway” does not account for the multi-layered nature of the internet, that “networks carry networks”, and the author continues on to explain that the internet is “more like the trucks on a highway than the highway itself.” This metaphor is ideal in showing how the internet, as we understand it, is constantly evolving and it is this kind of explanation that makes the book extremely accessible.
The book itself, around 304 pages, is split into seven primary sections including “The Map”, “The Whole Internet”, “Cities of Light”, and “Where Data Sleeps” with each section focusing on a particular, tangible, part of the internet. Prologue, Epilogue, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index sections are in support.
The narrative of the book is told almost like a dramatic storyline, only this story is very real, and the book is a riveting read helped by the author clearly having a passion for this subject which shines through in every chapter. My only wish would be that these physical places that Andrew finds upon his travels, from the backyard where the squirrel munched, through to the the Kubin-Nicholson building, TeleGeography, 8100 Boone, and PAIX, could be supported by the inclusion of photographs and diagrams which would add a very real and physical extra dimension to the story. However, there are details in the words that draw mental images of the internet, and if you enjoyed the book “How the Web was born” you are sure to enjoy this book.
In April 2011, a seventy-five year old woman deprived Armenia of its internet access when she sliced through a buried cable with her garden spade. That January, Egyptian authorities simply switched off 70% of the country’s internet connections in an attempt to quell a revolution. In 2009, a squirrel chewed through a wire in Andrew Blum’s backyard, slowing his broadband to a trickle and catapulting him on a quest to find out what this so-called ‘internet’ actually is. – Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet
If you have any interest in what this thing we know of as “the internet” really is then this is a definitive book on the subject.
Tubes: Behind the scenes at the Internet (ISBN: 9780670918980) is currently available for pre-order, from Amazon for £9.09 (price checked on 14th May 2012), together with a number of other vendors with an RRP of £12.99 whilst an ePub version is also available for eBook readers.
For more information head over to the Penguin website, Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet. Buy “Tubes: Behind The Scenes At The Internet” now from Amazon.