“Omnia vivunt, omnia inter se conexa”
Everything is alive; everything is interconnected.”
The Beauty of Global Connectivity
I love the internet. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t feel as if it’s some sort of magical plaything I get to use. I can’t imagine my world without it. The images above and below are visual maps of internet connectivity produced by Barrett Lyon and the Opte Project. Lyon figured out a way to “take a picture” of the internet by tracking, tracing and mapping internet data (see The Opte Project FAQ for more details). The image below was just released publicly in 2014—prior to that, it could only be seen in one edition of Discover Magazine or by visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. For me, both images powerfully and perfectly convey the visual beauty of our global inter-connectivity.
“When we try to pick anything out by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
~ John Muir
What is the Internet?
Most of us use the internet daily. But what is it? And how does it work? Until recently, I admit I was somewhat fuzzy about it all myself. It brought to mind the term cyberspace and images of some sort of nebulous clouds of information freely floating about out in space somewhere. I had no idea how all that data could cross oceans in an instant. I imagined information being beamed by satellites to points all around the world and then somehow getting wired to my home and computer. I knew that my computer was connected to my internet provider’s server and that my provider’s servers connected with other servers around the world, but I had no idea how such vast amounts of information could be transmitted globally in such short periods of time.
My curiosity about how the internet really works was piqued after watching one part of the fascinating six part documentary, How We Got to Now, with Steven Johnson on PBS (see trailer posted below). This brilliant series is all about how we, the human race, got to where we are now. The episode that touched on the internet starts with how the invention of glass dramatically changed our world and how, in particular, it has shaped modern technology. The story begins with the invention of clear glass by the Venetian glass blowers on the island of Murano, Italy, which paved the way to, among other things, today’s internet.
Steven Johnson’s explanation of how fiber-optic cables are made and how they are used to transmit internet data cleared up some of my fuzzy thinking about the internet. But not all of it: I still didn’t have a simple, clear schemata in my head of how the data actually traveled to and from my computer or mobile device. My interest still roused, I turned (where else?) to the internet itself, where I found a very simple and clear YouTube video that really simplified it all for me.
An Easy Visual Schematic of the Internet
For those of you looking for a simple, easy to follow explanation, here’s an excellent little video which explains the internet in less than five minutes:
What is the Internet Really Made Of?
For those of you who have had your curiosity further whetted, here’s another take on what the internet is, from a physical standpoint. For example, where are some of the world’s largest servers housed? And how does a connection instantly get made from your home computer, across oceans and around the world? For some of those answers, check out this interesting TED talk by Andrew Blum:
How We Got to Now with Steven Johnson on PBS
This is the documentary series that originally piqued my interest in the history of technology and how it changed the course of human history. Even if you don’t think you would be interested, you will be. If you can find it, you must check out this fascinating six part series which first aired on PBS in October, 2014. It is utterly compelling and totally engaging, no matter what the subject, from start to finish. I can’t say enough good things about this series:
The Internet 2003; CC (Attribution, Non-Commercial);
by The Opte Project / Barrett Lyon
The Internet 2010; CC (Attribution, Non-Commercial);
by The Opte Project / Barrett Lyon