cover of Networks of New York by Ingrid Burrington

Networks of New York

Ingrid Burrington

Copyright 2016, Melville House

Maybe I have met Ingrid Burrington before and maybe I think she’s awesome and maybe I was super excited to read this. But I must say, even if those things were not true, I would definitely still enjoy this book. Burrington starts this short book by asking “How do you see the internet?” and then meditating a bit on common answers she has received to the question. The rest of the guide is an attempt to help us see the physical infrastructure that underpins the internet. Burrington helps us step away from the strange metaphors and simplistic descriptions we use when talking about the internet to get a sense of how it functions and where all the tubes live.

Because physical infrastructure that spans the globe might be a bit overwhelming to describe in a small book, Burrington limits her explorations to New York City. Here, she finds if we pay attention to the markings on the ground, read the manhole covers, and look up to the light poles and notice the antennaes and boxes they are attached to, we find that the internet is neither a cloud nor very abstract. It’s rather physical and somewhat intrusive and probably much more interesting than the phrase “a series of tubes” would bely. Even more fascinating to me are the histories of communication networks embedded in the things that this book elucidates; a history of mergers and government contracts and the economics of infrastructure. Networks of New York is a delightful guide to these histories and the signs of the internet that surrounds us.