If you’ve ever wanted to know what happens when the cable leaves your house and merges into the nebulous internet, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet is for you. Half historical, half descriptive, the book shows how the internet is at the same time terribly modern and beholden to traditions, in particular where concentrations of people mean that communications of all kinds, especially phone cables, already lay before anyone thought of the web. And that’s also the weakness of the book. After all, the internet is nothing more than a bunch of routers connected to a bunch of cables, which makes for a pretty boring reality, even if the author has a knack for a snappy description and a wonderful way to capture the various geeks, almost all men, who maintain the network. And while the descriptions are, in my mind, excellent, it would have been great to have a few pictures what the various exchanges look like inside (it’s abundantly clear that they are specifically designed to look as anonymous as possible from outside).
After reading this book, I wondered whether any young person really cares about what the internet is. I use electricity everyday and I don’t really care about where it comes from, and indeed the power grid is just as important as the internet (and often intermingled with it, as is shown in one of the late chapters of the book that discusses, somewhat mysteriously, data centers — since data centers use the internet but are not part of it). So perhaps the curiosity about the internet is for us older people who did not have one growing up.