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Picture This

Is This What the Internet Really Looks Like?

It’s not just a search engine, it’s a verbGoogle! Despite some recent glitches with finances, Google remains for many the face of the Internet, the go-to site to go to anywhere else in a flash. But if Google is the face of the Internet, what is the face of Google? Sure, those Google Doodles (especially the recent Star Trek doodle, a personal favorite) put a funny, must-click exterior on the page, but what does the heart of Google, and therefore the internet, really look like. Maybe it looks like one of Connie Zhou’s amazing photographs of one of Google’s Data Centers (shown above), now featured on their own Google page. The Internet’s the all-consuming abstraction of our time—the deity of our day—so isn’t it time to look upon the face of our god and ask if this is what the internet really looks like?

One look at Connie Zhou’s photo of the Google Data Center in Oregon and you probably say to yourself, “Oh, no. Ted Stevens was right!” Yes, it’s not a picture of a truck, but instead a “series of tubes.” The red tubes transport warm water out of the plant and the blue tubes bring cool water back in. But don’t you wish you could get all Three Stooges (Curly or Shemp) and find oodles and oodles of wires inside the pipes streaming searches in and streaming searches out? What’s really flowing through the centers is the personal data of Google users, the precious life’s blood of the Internet that data vampires would love to sink their teeth into. Keeping the data safe is the most important role of the Google Data Centers.

Zhou’s photos of the colorful intricacies of the plants’ interiors may be the obvious choice for putting the abstraction of the Internet into visual form, but why not a vote for the plants’ exteriors, set in locations ranging from North Carolina to Finland? The Internet is about spanning the globe, so an international picture might be more apt. Or maybe the best candidate is one of the pictures of the people who work in these plants? Ted Stevens worked his way through many wrong-headed metaphors for the Internet, but failed to ever use the metaphor of a mirror. The Internet is nothing without the people who made it and use it everyday. Google, for all the talk of computing power and mountain ranges of data, is the people who keep the lights on and the machines running. It might not be the coolest picture, but it’s probably the most accurate.

[Image: Google Data Center in Oregon. Caption: “These colorful pipes are responsible for carrying water in and out of our Oregon data center. The blue pipes supply cold water and the red pipes return the warm water back to be cooled.” Photo credit: Connie Zhou.]

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