About Local Internet

This was inspired by reading James Bridle’s book ‘The New Dark Age’.

I was interested in chapter 5 about how the internet is not just ‘in the cloud’ but a real physical presence.

Bridle looked at the big picture, historically and geographically and politically, but I wondered where the the internet as a physical presence might be locally. I used my daily walking as a way to look for and photograph it.

Sure enough, there it was, along with the history of the telephone and it’s connection to traditional paths of communication, trade and power. It was in the streets below my feet. And these streets connected to very old roads and highways, pre-dating modernity let alone the internet, where many of the old telephone exchanges became situated

Local telephone exchanges.

These in turn connects to the old pathways of empires.

World map of submarine communication cables, 2015. Cable data by Greg Mahlknecht, world map by Openstreetmap contributors. Accessed through Wikimedia Commons.

Bridle says

‘It is no accident, that maps of internet traffic trace pathways of colonial power that are hundreds of years old. And we shouldn’t be surprised that the US military-intelligence complex, which gave birth to internet protocols, have also installed wiretapping equipment and personnel at junctions where trans-oceanic cables come ashore in the US, allowing them to scoop up far more communications data than they can effectively monitor.’

But the communications also mimic ancient ‘line of sight’ practices. Hadrians Wall acted as a means of passing warnings via ‘beacons‘ along it’s route, to warn the empire of attack. Network microwave towers, masts and dishes also use line of sight locally to pass digital data.

James Bridle has a lot to say and some of it is contentious, but he did make me think differently about my relationship with technology and whilst his description of himself as an ‘artist’ is also contended, if art makes us re-view the world then he does make art.

Even with a healthy concern about technology and digital security, I am interested in the way that going outdoors without a mobile phone, which for most of my life was the norm, is still a way to render yourself mostly invisible to the internet and the network. I am interested in exploring this through my art making and in my outdoor experiences.

Here are two more links to talks he has done.