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Friday, February 8, 2008

Of Internets and Artichokes

1866: The first trans-Atlantic cable was successfully installed to enable telegraph messages to cross the ocean from North America to Europe. Time to get a message from one side of the Atlantic to another dropped to a few minutes, from what had taken ten days for something called paper written on with a pen in ink to arrive via steamship. (Thanks Wikipedia for the great map of the routes of these original cables.)

What impresses me most? In 1858, they figured out how to lay a cable 1900 miles across the ocean, under the water, and it only took a few more years to make the cable stable enough to last and actually carry communication.

1956: The first fully-functioning transatlantic telephone cable was installed. Yes, another cable laid across the floor of the ocean.

The most recent trans-ocean telephone cables use fiber optic technology. But, fundamentally, they're still big fat cables lying on the ocean floor. And the shortest route across the Atlantic remains the line between Ireland and Newfoundland.

2007: Enterprising journalists piece together the fact that Google is working on a plan to build a massive cable across the Pacific Ocean so they don't have to rely on the under-ocean hardware of other communications companies to transmit their customers' data. These won't be the first cables across the Pacific, just the first such proprietary ones owned by something other than a traditional communications carrier.

2008 (yesterday): News that under-sea Internet cables had been damaged in four places in the last few days. Two breaks occurred due to natural seismic activity, one was damaged by a ship's anchor, and I can't recall what happened to the fourth. But these things do just break, the under-0cean cable guru interviewed on NPR explained . After all, they're under the ocean, which is a pretty corrosive environment. And they're subject to lots of mechanical stress.

But the breaks, though a lot to happen at once, and though destroying vital Mediterranean connections between Europe and Asia, and though not super-quick and easy to fix, didn't completely destroy the Internet because similar cables wind all over the place in the ocean. So, it was possible for the lines from India to make connections to the rest of the world--albeit more slowly due to overload of traffic--by running through other cables.

Which totally begs the questions: how cool, how nutty, how amazing is it that as far as world-wide communication technology has come since 1866, we still fundamentally rely on big fat giant cables snaking their way across the ocean? We, with our laptops and typing, our Google and instant news, our photos zooming around the world in a split second, our addiction to everything fast and quick and easy and cyber...we still rely on a technology that is fundamentally Victorian. We are wired. Literally. With wires. Enormous cords link us to each other. Real, actual cords under the ocean link us to real, actual people.

I am awed by the power of this technology, by its brazen, stunning simplicity. Who first thought, "Oh, just lay down a wire under the ocean so we can talk to each other more easily"? Someone as creative as whoever first thought, "Oh, I bet if we just boil it for 45 minutes, and then peel off these thorny leaves, this artichoke will taste totally delicious dipped in garlic butter." An incredible idea and one, like ancient Roman aqueducts, that still works today. Which just goes to show that sometimes, in small ways, it might be good to remember that we in the 21st century, we didn't invent everything. Humbling. In a very very good way.

13 comments:

MIQuilter said...

So what I want to know is, what is happening to all that ocean life as more and more cable gets chucked on top of it? I know, as usual, you can count on me to pee on everyone's parade......

MommyTime said...

Well, I'm pretty sure that in the North Atlantic there's no lovely coral getting smashed. Water's too darn cold. I envision snakes of cable running across the dark, rocky ocean bottom -- nothing really for animals to get tangled in, as far as I can tell, since it's too heavy (up to a foot in diameter, cable guru guy said on the radio yesterday). In harbors and shallow water, the traffic from ships already ruined the microclimates, so what's a little cable running around? As for the South Pacific, I really don't know, hence am not worried. The environmentalist in me thinks: how cool is it that we can still kill sealife 150 years later in the very same way they figured out back when Victoria was Queen? Doesn't that count for something? Sheesh. Does nothing impress you?!?!

Or something like that. Thanks for the sobering shower.

Bananas said...

very, very cool. I love a post where I can learn something!

Huckdoll said...

Fascinating! It is really mind blowing - the whole cable thing on the ocean floor is really hard to wrap the mind around. Thanks for sharing!

MIQuilter said...

Ok, ok, MT. I will agree, I guess with all the progress that we've made in 150 years, it's still impressive that one of the ways we helped to destroy our planet all those years ago is the same as today - especially with us constantly coming up with new ways to on such a regular basis. It truly appeals to my whole "I hate change/Change is bad" theory.

Thanks for helping me think of the positives!

It does beg the question though - with all those cables in the water and probably generating some sort of heat output, is it THAT and NOT the greenhouse gasses that are causing our the flooding and melting of icecaps and increased ocean temperature?

foolery said...

I'm going back to can and string.

MommyTime said...

Foolery, bwahahahaha. Those hardly work at all. Then again, same with my internet connection...

Bananas and Huckdoll -- yeah, fun to be fascinated by something other than kid poop, huh? :)

MultiplesMommy said...

Ok, so assuming those cables are, say, a zillion miles long (or even a few thousand if you're stuck in realism), how big was the truck that had to carry a zillion-mile-long-cable to point A so that it could be stretched to point B? And how big was the HORSE in Vicky's time that had to pull the wagon that carried that cable?? Geez, the mind truly boggles...

Amy said...

Honestly thinking about technology hurts my brain. I just can not get my head around it!

blog hoppin
the bombed mom

Darrin said...

Great stuff!! Just blog hoppin' with my Daddy Martini in hand!!

Emma Sometimes said...

So we need to cook an anchor from Rome and dip Google in garlic butter so we get Al Gore to invent the ocean.

I'm so glad I'm blog hoppin.
~Mox on the Rocks

Chuck said...

That was a really impressive and informative post. I've been following the stories around the cut cables since, well... since they got cut, as well as all the conspiracy theories around why/how they broke. The NPR cable guru seems to have a pretty good (realistic) handle on the whole situation.

Thanks, by the way, for the great comment you left on our site which ultimately led me to be a new subscriber to your site.

Have a great weekend! - Chas (blog hoppin')

MommyTime said...

Emma, I'm laughing out loud right now -- and I'm stone cold sober in the light of morning. You are funny!

Chas, Thanks so stopping and leaving a note. I'm glad my comment wasn't too insane. :) I will definitely be back at your place again.

Darrin and Amy, thanks for hoppin' by.

 

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