Thursday, February 2, 2017

Blog #4: Connecting the Big Picture

When visiting The Dalles, Oregon, Blum talks about his reasoning for going there. "It's home to one of the Internet's most important repositories, as well as being the de facto capital of a whole region devoted to storing our online selves" (p. 229). He compares The Dalles to Kathmandu, Nepal. A mysterious, foggy town at the base of a mountain that happens to be a perfect place to explore those huge buildings in which data is stored, while also being a place to look for enlightenment and a new sense of his digital self. Blum also explains, "A data center doesn't merely contain the hard drives that contain our data. Our data has become the mirror of our identities, the physical embodiment of our most personal facts and feelings. A data center is the storehouse of the digital soul" (p. 229). I realized through reading Tubes that the Internet isn't just nowhere. Our personal data of what we post on Facebook and what we watch on YouTube, is pieces of ourselves in these big machines in various locations. "Our data is always somewhere, often in two places." (p. 240). Blum explains that the 'geeky' way of answering a seemingly simple question of "Where's my email?" is to say that it appears to be in so many places it's as if it is nowhere at all. "The cloud" has always been a confusing topic to me. I know there aren't magical waves of energy that hold this data in a non-physical 'cloud-like' location. Without any previous knowledge, I had assumed this data we keep in this 'cloud' could only be explained by the satellites that orbit our earth. I thought by the term 'cloud', it was trying to be explained to us as our information is not kept with us here on Earth, but miles above our heads. "But generally speaking, the cloud asks us to believe that our data is an abstraction, not a physical reality." (p. 240). Ken Patchett, who worked for the Google location in The Dalles, explained that if you were to blow away the 'cloud', it's all of the buildings, just like the one he works at, around the planet that create this 'cloud'. The cloud is a building that works like a factory that prepares bits that come in to be shipped back out once assembled.
Blum has uncovered what the 'physical construct' of the Internet really is. All of these cables are connected and send light through glass to transmit signals. There is no single headquarters for the Internet. There are several smaller locations all around the globe with cables running everywhere connecting them with other locations and connecting those locations with other locations, and so on. There is a lot more physicality to the Internet rather than everything being sent as 'wireless signals'. There are cables run under the ocean floor. Geographical location is crucial and needs to be taken account of when deciding where to build another facility. Several things that make up what the Internet actually is, and I couldn't have even been able to imagine half of it on my own. The most surprising concept to me is the cloud. I wonder who came up with that term, how it got so popular, and how it so easily brainwashed people with no intensive knowledge of the Internet that it's this non-existent thing that just holds onto our data.

Discussion Questions:
1. What was your reaction to Blum stating that 'our data is always somewhere and often in more than one place', and where did you previously believe it to be?
2. I used to imagine "the cloud" as a way for companies to tell us that our information is stored in satellites, since it's being referred to as being something above our heads. What were your beliefs about what "the cloud" really was?

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ITR Presentation - World Wide Web