Nature-hood of Traveling Data

Made by ihans

Highlight an aspect of technology that is hidden or less perceivable.

Created: February 2nd, 2022

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Intention

There are some things that become spooky only when you pause to think about them. For example, What is ‘the cloud’ and where does it actually live? How does a video uploaded in Japan reach me in Pittsburgh so easily over the internet? Like any well-executed magic trick, the answer to these questions isn’t inexplicable, but just less known and rarely obvious. For example, the answer to the question of how does information travels across continents is: through the ocean floor. A packet of information travels to a physical location called a data center where it is stored on giant machines called servers. Data centers are connected to one another through cables laid on the ocean floor. Microsoft has created a whole website to showcase the ‘hidden world of datacenters’, but it’s still hard to wrap our heads around the path between our individual devices to these data centers. It’s also not very clear what impact do they have on the environment, and even though this has become a hot debate thanks to AI and NFTs, these questions haven’t been answered well yet. And if data is traveling through cables laid on the ocean floor, what does it mean for the aquatic life?

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Outcome

I created a visual narrative that gives visibility to these hidden elements of how our information travels across the ocean floor. There are two key things that I wanted to achieve in this narrative: 1) show data as something physical, because it is often intangible, 2) put images of the natural ecosystem that may be impacted by the cables in people's heads. Using playful drawings of the animals was a strategic choice to make it more relatable. Additionally, I chose to use simple black and white drawings throughout the presentation instead of real images to help the audience fill in some gaps in knowledge more conceptually.

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Process

I started by imagining a narrative involving animals. It starts with a  family of fish carrying data on their heads as they move across the water. When they arrive at their destination, there’s a gatekeeper, an octopus, who logs this data and its boarded on to something else from where it is taken by someone else till it leaves the water and reaches ground from where it is given to earthworm to carry who then gives it to some else and then someone else till it is eventually carried by a mosquito, who by the way looks dreary from carrying all that weight, but then this narrative gets stuck. How will it finally reach my computer and through that, me? There are multiple someones and some things that are hard to describe even if I understand the high-level overview of this process.

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Reflection

I didn't want to create an app prototype idea for this topic, because, well it would have been ironic to propose an app! So I had hoped to create a storybook narrative using different animals carrying packets of data to emphasize the invisibility of the natural ecosystem in our technology-driven worlds. But ran short of time to execute creating visuals and I think that made my idea fall short of the impact I had hoped it'll create.

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References

1. People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not. It’s in the ocean. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/10/technology/internet-cables-oceans.html

2. We live in the Cloud. https://news.microsoft.com/stories/microsoft-datacenter-tour/

3. Investigating Opaque Infrastructures With The Desktop Odometer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nntpLWLoVFU

4. HERE IS THE ARTICLE YOU CAN SEND TO PEOPLE WHEN THEY SAY “BUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES WITH CRYPTOART WILL BE SOLVED SOON, RIGHT?” https://everestpipkin.medium.com/but-the-environmental-issues-with-cryptoart-1128ef72e6a3

5. Sharks Want to Bite Google's Undersea Cables https://www.wired.com/2014/08/shark-cable/

6. How data travels across the Internet https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/security-of-the-internet/bgp/

7. How does the internet cross the ocean? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/how-does-the-internet-cross-the-ocean/     

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Highlight an aspect of technology that is hidden or less perceivable.