You are an infrastructure addict

By » Sat, April 7 2012
423828944 34c4b47741 450x337 You are an infrastructure addict

This is not a truck. (img by Angus Fraser)

Motherboard reminds us that the internet isn’t all a nebulous thing that serves us misinformation about fetuses in soft drinks. It’s an actual physical series of tubes, an international network owned and operated by corporate conglomerates you’ve never even heard of.

Just try and imagine the sheer physicality of these transit networks, which handle essentially all your international cyber activity in the form of tiny pulses of light. When we talk about controlling – or taking back – the Internet, in a lot of ways we’re talking about what we should do with a massive, massive series of corporate-owned pipes that collectively bear the load of about 99 percent of all international telephone and Internet traffic.

Take the Eastern Seaboard alone, where fiber-optic bundles of over 20 Transatlantic circuits make landfall in nondescript, secured buildings. These touchpoints cluster around the Tri-State area and Miami, linking the U.S. to Europe, Africa, and Central and South America with over 185,000 kilometers of cable. Once incoming data wash ashore, these nodes forward information onto regional nerve centers like 60 Hudson Street in New York City or Chicago’s sprawling, unseen data complex, and beyond.

The physical internet, though growing in complexity and taking on more wireless capability, still has international choke points: undersea cables. Just last month, someone pwned Africa by cutting some cables. And that’s (probably) just malicious private entities. Imagine a government threw their Navy into the mix, or somehow compelled the corporations that own the monster undersea cables to turn things off for a time.

Some people are thinking “let’s make it hard for cable cutters and The Powers That May Be.. let’s build a series of space-tubes, like, in space.”

We’ll see which way things go. But it’s good to look beyond our cell phones and laptop screens and grocery stores and light switches to remember that there is a shitload of infrastructure we depend on but don’t think about. I don’t mean this in a “human cost” or even environmental sort of way, either. Unbelievably huge amounts of stuff got moved halfway across the globe, then across miles of roads, wires, assembly lines, etc. just so you can sit in your house sipping coffee and snacking while reading this post on your gadget.

It’s mindboggling, especially if you start wondering what would happen if something just stopped. What can you do about it? I’d prioritize learning useful skills over stockpiling food and ammo and hate. Which skills? Good question. I’ll get back to you on that.

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