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Tubes

A Journey to the Center of the Internet

By Andrew Blum
10-minute read
Audio available
Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum

Tubes (2012) traces the origins of the internet, from its humble origins at a few US universities to its current superstructure status. You’ll find out about the physical components of the internet, including fiber cables, hubs and massive internet exchange points.

  • Internet geeks
  • People who want to understand how networks function
  • Those curious about the relationship between geography and the internet

Andrew Blum is a New-York based journalist who has published his work in Wired, Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair and Popular Science.

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Tubes

A Journey to the Center of the Internet

By Andrew Blum
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum
Synopsis

Tubes (2012) traces the origins of the internet, from its humble origins at a few US universities to its current superstructure status. You’ll find out about the physical components of the internet, including fiber cables, hubs and massive internet exchange points.

Key idea 1 of 6

The internet may seem purely virtual, but it owes its existence to a few very physical places.

The internet is everywhere: in our houses, on our phones, in our cities. You’re even reading this blink online right now. Yet when we think about how the internet works – and where we can find it – most of us draw a blank.

The truth is that, despite how much we use it, most of us don’t understand the internet. We use smartphones to send emails, Skype our families in different countries and watch movies wherever we are. Yet if we’re asked where our internet comes from, we usually can’t get past the router blinking away in a corner of our home.

But the router is only the final link in a long chain of connections: your router is connected to a fiber cable, which is connected to more cables that travel to bigger hubs, and these hubs are connected to even more cables and hubs. Information is sent in the form of bits of light throughout the network all over the world, allowing everyone to communicate and access the connected information.

While that is still quite abstract, there are places where you can go and see the internet in the physical world: the hubs.

Internet hubs are in buildings straight out of a sci-fi movie: towering gray walls with no company name on display outside, while thousands of routers blink in the dark as fans roar to keep the machines cool inside.

The biggest of these hubs are located in well-known cities, like Frankfurt, Palo Alto, London and Tokyo. But there are also thousands of miles of cables beneath the sea, connecting the continents of our world.

Now that we know a bit more about the physical nature of the internet, let’s take a look at its origins.

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