I read Andrew Blum's Tubes for this month's Nebraska Learns 2.0 BookThing. The author decided to visit the Internet, offline. He went around the world, looking at routers, cables, Internet exchanges, and data centers. We may commonly think of the Internet as a "virtual" space, not physically real. However, Blum's journey vividly illustrates that the Internet is neither nowhere nor everywhere, but most definitely somewhere. The fiber optic lines follow real-world paths, aboveground, underground, and undersea. They converge in real-world nexuses, not unlike the hub system used for air travel. The data you store in the "cloud" is situated in a real, physical location, possibly in Oregon, where Blum visited data centers operated by Google and Facebook (and had very, very different experiences at the two places). Blum saw enough of the Internet's infrastructure that he became consciously aware of the exact geographic path traveled by his data when he sent an email. The Internet was built the same way roads and buildings were built--by people with tools and heavy equipment digging up the landscape--and this book lets you meet these people and see how they work.
I'll confess that while I was intellectually aware that the Internet was made up of physical cables and servers, I never gave much thought to actually where these were or how they worked. The Internet was, in my mind, an amorphous blob floating "out there." I've always imagined that the greatest threat to the Internet was from hackers, viruses, and other malicious nasties operating in the virtual arena. This book enlightened me to the ways earthquakes and catastrophic weather events could take out huge chunks of the Internet by severing major fiber lines or knocking out an exchange center. On a more prosaic level, the physicality of the Internet helps explain why one web page loads slowly and another quickly, or why a page that loads slowly for you loads quickly for your neighbor--and the next page loads quickly for you but slow for them--if you have different Internet service providers.
From a library standpoint, this knowledge could be useful for troubleshooting Internet troubles. Internet slow? Has your nearest Internet exchange been hit by a storm or quake? Want to store data in the cloud? Where is it, really? Which state? Which country? Whose servers? Is it secure, both physically and virtually? Good things to be aware of, and good things to help make library patrons aware of. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to look under the hood of the Internet.