Isn’t it strange how everyone talks about the internet like it’s something abstract?
‘Cyberspace’ … ‘Hyperlinks’ … ‘Ethernet.’
Anyone would think that the web is metaphysical, ethereal even – like an emotion, or a force, or some pure platonic idea.
But weirdly, the information superhighway is more like, well, a really big highway, than anything angelic and otherworldly.
Right now, there’s a server somewhere that your computer is connected to, and it’s feeding you the data that makes up this website. It’s a shelf, basically, of modems. It probably looks something like this:
You can use this tool to find where the server is located for any URL or IP address.*
It all gets quite fascinating. Hotmail.com is on 164th Avenue in Redmond, Washington state. Itunes.com is somewhere near El Cerrito Rd, Cupertino, California. And interestingly, gumtree.com is in (somewhat elliptically) ‘Europe.’
There’s an interesting post here about the physical internet – basically, all that hard-core infrastructure, optical fibre and undersea cabling that underpins the soft-core web. It’s an interesting perspective on the geopolitical realities that determine, however crudely, the flow of information around the world:
… The redundancies of the submarine lines to North America and Europe have caused internet prices to plummet, which in turn has encouraged not only higher usage of internet but an active participation in the information world. Meanwhile, you can count the number of lines feeding Africa on one hand. As a result, prices are so high that even the lines that are already in place become meaningless, because of lack of use.
Conversely, other places become data hubs. Apparently, the village of Tarifa in Spain is one such location – its other notable attractions include wind-surfing and birdwatching – thanks to its position mid-way between the Atlantic and Mediterranean networks.
I love this idea of an “information harbour” – the notion that the physical attributes of a place can define it as a nexus, a data metropolis, regardless of how significant it is in any other political or economic respects. And I love the idea that a spine of cables connects so many countries through the Middle East and Central Asia, and that – for example – India is bound up, through data, with Pakistan.
In Australia, the recent debate around the mooted National Broadband Network has brought a bit of media attention to the question of internet infrastructure.
And yet oddly – am I the only one? – I’d never before really contemplated the internet as a thing.
(Excepting, of course, those occasions when my Vodafone plug-in wireless modem fails, and I’ve got to give it a bash or three on the desk to get it functional and effortless and ethereal once more.)
* I looked up this website, mindsurgery.wordpress.com, and discovered the server is located in San Antonio, Texas. So to everyone on Center Park Boulevard, howdy.