New York City’s hid­den net­works re­vealed in new book

Metro USA (New York) - - New York -

Did you check your email while you were on the train or be­fore you left home? If you’re read­ing this on a smart­phone or lap­top, does your read­ing his­tory get stored in “the Cloud,” an all-know­ing neb­ula of in­for­ma­tion that floats above us? What does the in­ter­net look like?

Those are some of the ques­tions artist and au­thor In­grid Bur­ring­ton asked her­self, and the an­swers spawned “Net­works of New York: An Il­lus­trated Field Guide to Urban In­ter­net In­fra­struc­ture,” a book from the presses of Melville House Books due out Aug. 30.

“In 2013, af­ter a lot of the [Ed­ward] Snow­den sto­ries started drop­ping, all of these [news] sto­ries had the worst clip art and stock pho­tos on them,” Bur­ring­ton said. “Like a black screen with some green let­ters and a lot of ar­bi­trary look­ing things, like this one photo of the NSA that was taken in the 1970s, and I just kind of thought to my­self, ‘I don’t know what the in­ter­net looks like, but I don’t think it looks like this.’ ”

Be­ing just your av­er­age cit­i­zen, Bur­ring­ton, a Bal­ti­more na­tive who lives in Brook­lyn, wasn’t able to in­ter­view top NSA of­fi­cials or ac­cess hid­den gov­ern­ment data fa­cil­i­ties. She said she was more in­ter­ested in what she could see street-level and won­dered about the com­pli­cated sys­tem that al­lowed her to do some­thing so every­day, like check­ing her email while she walks down the street.

“In be­long­ing to ev­ery­one, it tech­ni­cally doesn’t be­long to any­one,” Bur­ring­ton said. “The in­ter­net, if it’s a network of net­works, it’s a bunch of dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies who own lots and lots of cables who choose to have their bunches of cables con­nected to other peo­ple’s net­works.”

“Net­works of New York” pro­vides the key that al­lows you to see the spray paint, man­hole cov­ers and other mark­ings that make up the tech network map.

And if you’re wor­ried that shows like “CSI” teach the bad guys how to get away with mur­der, Bur­ring­ton said her book isn’t di­vulging se­crets; her bib­li­og­ra­phy in­cludes city fran­chise agree­ments from their web­sites, TSA doc­u­ments, city per­mits and small talk with work­ers do­ing ex­ca­va­tion.

Bur­ring­ton said she hopes the book will cre­ate an un­der­stand­ing of the in­ter­net and other seem­ingly mun­dane op­er­a­tions without tak­ing them for granted.

“My friend, Aaron Cope, said some­thing a while back about how civil so­ci­ety is a pro­ject for let­ting us take things for granted,” Bur­ring­ton shared. “The in­ter­net just works. We just have clean drink­ing wa­ter. We just have free­dom of speech. The thing that’s al­ways dan­ger­ous about that pro­ject [is] it’s harder to tell what it means for them to stop work­ing and a lot eas­ier for abuses of power to come into play.”


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