In June 2012 journalist Andrew Blum caught the world off guard with a personal anecdote describing when a squirrel “chewed on his Internet” resulting in his house going offline. In his widely popular Ted Talk, “What is the Internet, really?”, Blum recounted the great confusion he felt wondering how a squirrel could chew on the Internet, something seemingly so intangible and abstract. Much of his audience shared the same reaction to this visual, and as Blum continued asking questions like “Where is the Internet?” and “Can I go there?”, the world began to react with a similarly abstract question; what does the Internet look like?
To me, this question seemed impossible to answer. How can something that crosses oceans, connects people from across the globe, and recently with Chris Hadfield’s impressive connectivity from the International Space Station, connects the world to activity in outer space, be quantified to one single image? I decided to reach out and see what images other people had in mind, before making up my own.
When I initially asked some friends and family to tell me what they thought the Internet looked like, the first response I received was, “I’m confused. It looks like my computer monitor.”
As other answers trickled in, confusion was, understandably, the most prevalent theme. To many, the Internet is an intangible tool used for everything from social networking to advanced research; from online shopping to reading top speed news; from self-diagnosing terminal illnesses based on a few nagging symptoms to educating hundreds of doctors in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its wide set use, very few people have an idea of what the Internet looks like.
As I asked this question more and more, a select few overcame their confusion for long enough to offer up some more inspired ideas.
“Cats,” one friend suggested, referencing the increasing popularity of cat memes on all corners of the Web. “No, but seriously,” she added, “It’s probably no man’s land.”
Others disagreed, considering the Internet to be far from empty. One friend proposed that “the Internet looks like what would happen if the collective unconscious were to throw up.” This opinion seems to be more popular, as descriptions of chaos turned up more and more.
“I always imagine the Internet to look like a network of winding, narrow streets, kind of like a disorganized map of the alleys in Barcelona.”
At PEER 1 Hosting we agree that the Internet can be expressed in the form of a map or a connection graph, and therefore invested in creating an interactive visual in the form of an app. PEER 1’s “Map of the Internet” app, which recently surpassed 100,000 downloads, allows its users to explore the web in an entirely new way, visually. The app untangles the confusion surrounding what the Internet actually looks like with two different possible perspectives; the Global view and the Network view. One of the most interesting features involves the element of time, allowing users to look back as far as 1994 to see what the Internet looked like then, and projects what the Internet is expected to look like in the future.
In the end, whether you view the Internet as an intricate map or a picture of a cat, nearly everyone can recognize the value in it. One friend admits that he has no idea what the Internet looks like, but more importantly suggests, “I like the Internet. We have a connection.”