I’ve featured some fascinating ideas from TED Talks before, they always explore cutting-edge thinking and (in their words) “convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses” from around the world. Naturally some of the topics interest me more than others, but their latest video I found genuinely enthralling and was completely captivated by it.
The internet. Nowadays it is such a simple idea, the availability of WiFi and data connectivity through your phone network means that the majority of us are almost always connected to the internet, by some means, all the time. But in the midst of all this wireless capability there needs to be hard-wired connections. We need to be “plugged in” to the internet somewhere for all of this to be possible.
If you go behind the scenes and trace the origins of the plethora of cables and wires that come into your home or business, just as Andrew Blum did when a squirrel chewed through his home broadband line, your personal intrigue may well unravel more than you thought.
the underwater cables, secret switches and other physical bits that make up the net.
As Andrew says, the materials and science behind it is extremely complex, but the physical process is so simple. And a physical process it is.
The internet is unequivocally physical, and surprisingly intimate. It has to be by its very definition. You could be on a video chat with someone on the other side of the world and it might not seem very real or tangible, or even very connected, but by some route or other there is a physical connection between you, it might be through 8,000 miles under the ocean, but it is there.
I’m notably guilty of forgetting that the Internet doesn’t just come from my telecoms supplier, but that there is a host of technology before the utility company gets it.
The idea that you need to “plug in” an entire continent is hard to comprehend, even at a basic level. But the really fascinating series of images showing how part of Africa was merely plugged in and, despite the technology and processes, shows perhaps just how fragile our connections really are.
Read the full post from Andrew Blum here.