Andrew Blum’swas another holiday book. It was a decent enough on the terrace with a cool drink in between swims, but I was somewhat disappointed in it. The book starts with the author’s home internet connection being lost due to a squirrel chewing through a cable in his yard, and this sets off a quest to track down the physical infrastructure delivering what we all now consider to be more or less a human right, namely broadband internet access.
[amazon_image id=”0670918989″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet[/amazon_image]
This subject fascinates me, at least since I first read about the new tunnel for fibre-optic cable being driven through the Allegheny Mountains to speed the connection between the Chicago and New York financial markets by a few nanoseconds. Also the question of where the internet servers on which ‘the cloud’ sits are located and what that implies for, say, the balance of payments, or privacy for that matter. Not to mention who owns all the cables and infrastructure, how they interconnect, where the value sits in the value chain, and all that jazz.
So Tubes starts out well and has a number of interesting sections in which the author visits various key locations such as the London Internet Exchange, or the Google and Facebook data centres in Oregon, or the seaside spots in Cornwall and Portugal joined by a new undersea cable. Still, I felt he didn’t tell me enough about these places – fantastic access without enough detail or analysis. Maybe that has something to do with the terms on which he was allowed to visit, although that’s never stated.
Interestingly, Facebook emerges as a far more open company than Google when it comes to Blum’s visits to the data centres – he isn’t even allowed in through the door at their data center – which is also obscured on Google Maps. I wonder if Facebook has changed its approach since the visit?
So I would recommend reading Tubes, which is entertaining and well-written. But I’m still looking for something more analytical about the physical reality of the internet and the intangible economy it is creating.