“Tubes” Take You Through the Internet

June 21, 2012

Have you ever found yourself on an amusement park ride when it broke down? Once they flipped on the lights in order to haul you out, you might have been amazed at the mechanics used to move you through the ride. The fact that you never see the innards is what makes the journey magical, but by the same token it is fun to wrap your mind around everything that goes into getting you from beginning to end. In “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet”, Andrew Blum aims to take listeners on a similar excursion, only he wants to explain how the internet gets to your home. Like other fantastical journeys to the center of things (like the Earth), you might be confounded by where this particular ride takes you (although thankfully you will not be beset by dinosaurs in the middle of your trek through the inner workings of the internet). But if you’ve ever wondered just where that cable in your wall actually goes and how it connects you to the worldwide web, “Tubes” will give you a glimpse of the unknown.

In truth, this audio book is something of a love letter to the army of workers that is building and maintaining the physical infrastructure required to make the internet a reality. And you might be surprised by just how much ground must be covered. Consider for a moment what has to happen in order for you to be instantly connected to a website in the UK. First of all, there are thousands of miles of fiber optic cable that have to cross two land masses separated by a massive body of water. There are data centers housing the information you’re requesting that must be contacted before web pages can find their way to your home computer and load. And in between there are all manner of routers that the signal has to pass through in order to get all the places it needs to go to bring you the information you request.

And of course, the “internet architects” make sure that the very real locations that support this virtual transfer are up and running along every step of the way, from the 10,000 miles of submerged cabling that run between Europe and Africa to the telephone and even telegraph stations that have been retrofitted with modern technology in order to be pressed back into service for the communications of today and the future. From the moment you unpack your computer, slap on a screen protector, boot up, and connect to the internet, you are on a journey that spans the farthest reaches of the planet, whether you know it or not.

Blum did his research and he definitely delivers the goods. Although few people are so naïve as to think that the internet is nothing more than a “series of tubes” (remember the famous gaffe made by senator Ted Stevens of Alaska?), not too many people actually understand the true size, scope, components, and people that go into making the internet work. This is one audio book that can help to take you step-by-step through the vast corridors that connect your computer to the world. It’s no theme park ride, but it’s still pretty amazing.

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