Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

Andrew Blum


Welcome to the fascinating journey through Andrew Blum’s book, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet! 🌐✨ Published in 2012, this non-fiction marvel takes us behind the screens to explore the physical realities of the internetβ€”a space we often think of as purely digital and intangible.

Andrew Blum, a journalist and author with a keen eye for technology and architecture, was inspired to write Tubes after a squirrel chewed through his home internet cables. This seemingly small incident sparked a monumental quest to understand the Internet’s physical structure. As we dive into the book, we encounter a mix of travelogue, technical explanation, and personal discovery, making Tubes a unique genre-bender that appeals to tech enthusiasts, geographers, and general readers alike.

Blum’s exploration challenges our abstract perceptions of the internet, grounding it in a tangible world of cables, data centers, and network hubs. So, buckle up for an enlightening ride through the literal nuts and bolts that power our online lives! πŸš€

Plot Summary

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet takes readers on an eye-opening expedition to the heart of the global internet infrastructure. Andrew Blum acts both as the narrator and guide through this intricate network, making complex technical concepts accessible to a broad audience. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the book’s structure:

  • Exposition β€” Blum’s journey begins with a curiosity sparked by personal inconvenience: a squirrel disrupts his internet service by chewing through cables. This event leads him to question where the internet physically “lives.” He sets out to discover the buildings, cables, and machines that make up the internet’s backbone.
  • Rising Action β€” As Blum travels from data centers in small towns to vast undersea cable landing sites, he meets the unsung heroes who design, build, and maintain the internet’s physical structure. His quest takes him across continents, from the networking hubs in major cities like Los Angeles and New York to remote areas like Cornwall, UK, and even the Arctic Circle.
  • Climax β€” The journey’s climax occurs when Blum fully grasps the sheer scale and complexity of the internet’s physical presence. This realization comes as he visits one of the world’s largest data centers and sees the global network’s heart, where endless racks of servers process and store the data that powers our online lives.
  • Falling Action β€” With the climax’s revelation, Blum begins to reflect on the implications of the internet’s physicality for privacy, security, and the future of digital connectivity. He explores how this tangible infrastructure is vulnerable to physical attacks and natural disasters, raising questions about the resilience of our global network.
  • Resolution β€” Blum concludes his journey with a new appreciation for the internet’s physical and metaphorical dimensions. He recognizes the internet as a human-made wonder, a testament to collaboration, innovation, and the relentless pursuit of connectivity. This journey transforms his understanding of the internet from an abstract, cloud-like entity to a grounded, intricate system of “tubes.”

This plot summary of Tubes highlights Blum’s transformation from curious observer to informed explorer, unraveling the hidden layers of the internet’s physical realm for readers to discover and appreciate.

Character Analysis

In Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, the characters are not fictional protagonists and antagonists but real people whom Andrew Blum meets on his journey. These individuals, often engineers, technicians, and industry experts, play crucial roles in maintaining the infrastructure of the internet. Here’s an analysis of some key “characters”:

  • Andrew Blum β€” As the narrator and the journey’s protagonist, Blum starts with a simple curiosity and transforms into an informed explorer of the internet’s physical world. His background as a journalist helps him articulate complex technical details in an engaging manner. Throughout the book, his motivation is clear: to demystify the physicality of the internet for himself and his readers. His character develops from that of a casual internet user to an insightful observer of its unseen infrastructure.
  • Paul β€” A network engineer Blum meets during his visit to a major internet exchange point. Paul embodies the archetype of the gatekeeper, providing Blum (and thus the readers) with access to one of the internet’s nerve centers. His passion for his work and his detailed explanations of technical aspects of the network’s operation help humanize the technology that powers the internet.
  • Carol β€” A technician at a data center, Carol represents the operational backbone of the internet. Her character highlights the meticulous attention to detail and the high stakes involved in maintaining the physical components of the internet. Through Carol, readers gain insight into the day-to-day challenges and triumphs of keeping the digital world running.

Character Analysis Summary

CharacterPersonalityMotivationsCharacter Development
Andrew BlumCurious, persistent, articulateTo uncover the physical reality of the internetFrom internet user to knowledgeable explorer
PaulKnowledgeable, passionate, welcomingTo maintain and improve the internet’s infrastructureProvides insights into the complexity of the network
CarolMeticulous, dedicated, problem-solverTo ensure the seamless operation of data centersHighlights the critical role of data center technicians

This table reflects how Tubes relies on the real-life experiences and insights of its characters to weave a narrative that’s both informative and humanizing. It showcases the diverse range of personalities and expertise involved in the operation and maintenance of the internet’s physical infrastructure.

Themes and Symbols

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet delves into several profound themes and employs various symbols to enrich its exploration of the internet’s physicality. Here’s an overview:

  • Connectivity and Globalization β€” The book’s central theme revolves around the internet as a physical manifestation of global connectivity. Blum’s journey across continents to trace cables and visit data centers highlights the internet’s role in erasing geographical boundaries and fostering global communication. This theme is crucial in understanding how the internet has become an indispensable part of modern life, influencing cultures, economies, and social interactions worldwide.
  • Transparency and Mystery β€” Blum uncovers the ironic contrast between the internet’s pervasive presence in our lives and the general opacity surrounding its physical infrastructure. This theme of transparency versus mystery invites readers to consider the layers of unseen labor and complex technology that underpin their daily online experiences, pushing for a deeper appreciation and understanding of the internet’s material base.
  • Vulnerability and Resilience β€” Through visits to critical internet infrastructure sites, Blum exposes the physical vulnerabilities of the networkβ€”ranging from natural disasters to human sabotage. Yet, this theme is counterbalanced by the resilience built into the internet’s design, such as redundant pathways and decentralized nodes, showcasing the careful planning and innovation aimed at ensuring the internet’s robustness against various threats.
  • Human Impact and Responsibility β€” The narrative emphasizes the human element in the internet’s operation and evolution. This theme explores how individual and collective actions affect the network’s functionality and integrity, urging a reflection on the responsibilities of those who maintain and use the internet. It serves as a reminder of the technological marvel’s fragility and the need for conscious stewardship.


  • The “Tube” β€” The titular symbol, representing the physical cables that carry the internet across continents and under oceans, serves as a metaphor for connectivity and the tangible reality of the digital world. It symbolizes the grounded, material aspect of an otherwise intangible entity.
  • Data Centers β€” These facilities symbolize the heart of the internet, places where the digital meets the physical. Data centers stand as symbols of powerβ€”both in terms of computing and energy consumptionβ€”and reflect on the environmental and economic impacts of the internet’s infrastructure.
  • The Squirrel β€” The incident with the squirrel that initially sparked Blum’s curiosity becomes a symbol of the internet’s unexpected vulnerability. It represents the idea that even the most advanced and global of technologies can be affected by the simplest of real-world problems.

Together, these themes and symbols enrich Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum, offering readers a multifaceted understanding of the internet’s complexities. The book encourages a deeper contemplation of the digital world’s physical underpinnings and our place within this interconnected global network.

Writing Style and Tone

Andrew Blum’s Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet is characterized by a writing style and tone that make the complex, hidden world of internet infrastructure not only accessible but also compelling for a wide audience. Let’s break down the key elements of Blum’s style and how they contribute to the book’s overall mood and atmosphere:

  • Exploratory and Inquisitive β€” Blum’s narrative is driven by a genuine curiosity about the physical structure of the internet. His approach is exploratory, taking the reader along on a journey of discovery. This inquisitive style encourages readers to see the internet in a new light, fostering a sense of wonder and fascination.
  • Descriptive and Vivid β€” Blum excels in transforming technical descriptions of hardware and infrastructure into vivid, engaging prose. His ability to paint detailed pictures of data centers, undersea cables, and internet exchange points brings these otherwise mundane locations to life, making the reader feel as if they are right there alongside him.
  • Accessible and Engaging β€” Despite the technical nature of the subject, Blum’s tone remains accessible and engaging. He simplifies complex concepts without dumbing them down, ensuring readers of all backgrounds can grasp the intricacies of internet infrastructure. His conversational tone, peppered with humor and personal reflections, makes the narrative feel like a dialogue between the author and the reader.
  • Reflective and Thoughtful β€” Throughout the book, Blum often pauses to reflect on the broader implications of his discoveries. This contemplative tone invites readers to think deeply about the internet’s impact on society, culture, and the environment. It adds a philosophical dimension to the narrative, elevating it beyond a mere technical exploration.
  • Educational yet Entertaining β€” Blum strikes a delicate balance between educating his audience and keeping them entertained. The book is packed with information, but its delivery is always in the service of storytelling. This style ensures that readers come away not only more knowledgeable about the internet’s physical reality but also thoroughly entertained by the journey.

In summary, Andrew Blum’s Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet is a masterclass in making a potentially dry and technical topic both enlightening and enjoyable. Through his exploratory and descriptive writing, accessible and engaging tone, and reflective, thoughtful insights, Blum has crafted a work that demystifies the physical internet and captures the imagination of his readers.

Literary Devices Used in Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

In “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet,” Andrew Blum skillfully employs various literary devices to enhance his narrative, making the complex subject of internet infrastructure both engaging and accessible. Here are the top 10 literary devices used in the book:

1. Metaphor β€”

Blum frequently uses metaphors to draw comparisons between the internet’s physical infrastructure and more familiar, tangible objects. This device helps demystify complex technical concepts for readers, making them more relatable and understandable.

2. Imagery β€”

Vivid imagery is used throughout the book to paint detailed pictures of the settings and objects encountered on Blum’s journey. This device engages the reader’s senses, bringing to life the otherwise hidden world of internet infrastructure.

3. Personification β€”

Blum personifies elements of the internet infrastructure, attributing human characteristics to machines and networks. This makes the technical material more accessible and compelling, fostering a connection between the reader and the subject matter.

4. Anecdotes β€”

The use of anecdotes personalizes the narrative, providing readers with glimpses into the author’s experiences and the lives of those working behind the scenes of the internet. This device adds depth and relatability to the technical exploration.

5. Simile β€”

Similes are employed to draw comparisons, making abstract or complex ideas about the internet more tangible and easier to visualize. This literary device aids in the reader’s comprehension and engagement with the material.

6. Juxtaposition β€”

Blum uses juxtaposition to highlight the contrast between the virtual perception of the internet and its physical reality. This device emphasizes the book’s main theme and challenges the reader’s preconceived notions about the internet.

7. Hyperbole β€”

Hyperbole is used to emphasize the vast scale and significance of the internet’s infrastructure. This device helps convey the enormity of the subject matter, impressing upon the reader the critical role of the internet in modern life.

8. Irony β€”

Irony highlights the discrepancies between expectation and reality, especially in the context of the internet’s physical vulnerabilities versus its perceived omnipotence. This device adds a layer of critique and reflection to the narrative.

9. Alliteration β€”

The use of alliteration adds a rhythmic quality to the prose, making the text more memorable and engaging. This device is particularly effective in drawing attention to key concepts and themes.

10. Symbolism β€”

Symbolism is evident in the recurrent themes and objects that represent broader ideas, such as the “tubes” symbolizing connectivity and infrastructure. This device enriches the narrative by adding deeper meaning to the exploration of the internet.

These literary devices are instrumental in transforming Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet into a compelling and thought-provoking read. By employing these techniques, Andrew Blum not only informs his audience about the physical structure of the internet but also engages them in a deeper reflection on its implications for society.

Literary Devices Examples

In Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Andrew Blum employs a variety of literary devices to enrich his narrative. Here are examples for each of the top 10 literary devices highlighted:



  1. The Internet as a “Superhighway” β€” Blum uses this metaphor to compare the flow of data across the internet to the movement of vehicles on a highway, illustrating the concept of data transmission in a relatable way.
  2. Data Centers as “Digital Libraries” β€” This metaphor likens data centers, with their vast stores of information, to libraries, emphasizing their role as repositories of digital knowledge.
  3. Undersea Cables as “Global Arteries” β€” By comparing undersea cables to arteries, Blum highlights their crucial role in keeping the global internet alive, much like arteries circulate blood in the body.



  1. Description of a Data Center β€” Blum’s vivid description of the cold, humming data centers, with rows upon rows of blinking server lights, creates a visual and sensory experience for the reader.
  2. The Landscape of Internet Cables β€” The detailed imagery of cables stretching across landscapes and under oceans paints a vivid picture of the internet’s vast physical network.
  3. The Bustle of an Internet Exchange Point β€” Descriptions of the dynamic environment inside an internet exchange point, with technicians monitoring screens and adjusting equipment, bring the scene to life.



  1. Servers “Whispering” β€” Blum personifies servers as whispering among themselves, a creative way to describe data exchange within a data center.
  2. Cables “Resting” on the Ocean Floor β€” This personification gives a sense of tranquility and permanence to the undersea cables that form the backbone of the internet.
  3. The Internet “Waking Up” β€” Describing the internet as “waking up” during peak usage times personifies the network as a living entity responding to the world’s rhythms.



  1. Encounter with a Network Engineer β€” Blum shares a personal anecdote about meeting a network engineer, which sheds light on the complexities of managing internet traffic.
  2. The Squirrel Incident β€” The story of how a squirrel chewing through internet cables sparked Blum’s curiosity serves as a compelling opening anecdote that frames the narrative.
  3. Visit to an Undersea Cable Landing Site β€” An anecdote about visiting a site where undersea cables make landfall illustrates the tangible, physical aspects of the global internet.



  1. Data Traveling “Like Cars on a Highway” β€” This simile helps readers visualize how data packets move across the internet.
  2. Servers “Stacked Like Books on a Shelf” β€” Blum uses this simile to describe the orderly arrangement of servers in a data center, making the environment more relatable.
  3. The Hum of Data Centers “Like Bees in a Hive” β€” This simile conveys the constant activity and energy within a data center.

These examples demonstrate how Andrew Blum utilizes literary devices to make the intricate world of internet infrastructure engaging and accessible, enriching the narrative of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet with vivid descriptions, personal anecdotes, and creative comparisons.

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet – FAQs

What inspired Andrew Blum to write Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet? Andrew Blum was inspired to explore the physical reality of the internet after a squirrel chewed through his home internet cable, leading to a loss of connectivity. This incident sparked his curiosity about the tangible aspects of the internet, which we often perceive as an abstract, cloud-like entity.

Who would benefit from reading Tubes? Tubes is ideal for a wide range of readers, including tech enthusiasts, students, professionals interested in the workings of the internet, and general readers curious about how digital connectivity impacts our world. It provides a unique blend of travel, technology, and human interest stories.

What are the main themes explored in Tubes? The main themes include the physicality and infrastructure of the internet, the contrast between the internet’s digital presence and its physical backbone, global connectivity, and the often overlooked human element behind the internet’s upkeep and development.

How does Tubes differ from other books about the internet? Unlike many books that focus on the internet’s societal, economic, or digital aspects, Tubes offers a rare glimpse into the physical infrastructure that underpins the global network. Andrew Blum takes readers on a literal journey to data centers, undersea cables, and internet exchange points, providing a comprehensive view of the internet’s tangible components.

What literary devices does Andrew Blum use in Tubes? Blum employs various literary devices, including metaphor, imagery, personification, anecdotes, simile, juxtaposition, hyperbole, irony, alliteration, and symbolism. These devices enhance the narrative, making complex technical concepts more accessible and engaging for readers.

Is Tubes based on real events and places? Yes, Tubes is a non-fiction book based on Andrew Blum’s real-life travels and experiences. He visits actual data centers, cable landing sites, and internet exchange points across the globe, providing authentic insights into the internet’s physical infrastructure.

Does Tubes provide a global perspective on the internet? Yes, Andrew Blum offers a global perspective by traveling to various locations worldwide, including the United States, Europe, and Asia. This wide-ranging exploration highlights the global nature of the internet’s infrastructure and its impact on connectivity across continents.

Can Tubes be used as an educational resource? Absolutely, Tubes serves as an excellent educational resource for students and educators interested in understanding the internet beyond its digital interface. It provides valuable insights into the technical, geographical, and human factors that keep the global network running, making it a great addition to curricula in technology, geography, and media studies.


1. What incident inspired Andrew Blum to explore the physical aspects of the Internet?

  • A) A power outage in his neighborhood
  • B) A documentary about the Internet
  • C) A squirrel chewing through his Internet cable
  • D) An article about undersea cables

2. Which of the following is NOT a main theme of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet?

  • A) The physicality of the Internet
  • B) The digital divide in access to technology
  • C) Global connectivity
  • D) The human element behind the Internet

3. What literary device is frequently used by Andrew Blum to make technical concepts more relatable?

4. Where does Blum visit to understand the Internet’s physical infrastructure?

  • A) Only in the United States
  • B) Various locations worldwide, including data centers and cable landing sites
  • C) Exclusively in Silicon Valley
  • D) Only online virtual tours

5. How does Blum describe data centers in Tubes?

  • A) As outdated technology
  • B) As crucial hubs of information and connectivity
  • C) As unnecessary for the Internet’s operation
  • D) As purely energy-consuming entities without benefits

6. What symbolizes the tangible reality of the digital world in Tubes?

  • A) Clouds
  • B) The “tube” or physical cables
  • C) Digital avatars
  • D) The squirrel

7. Which literary device does Blum use to add a layer of critique and reflection to the narrative?

8. What does Blum hope readers gain from Tubes?

  • A) A fear of technology
  • B) An interest in becoming network engineers
  • C) A deeper understanding of the Internet’s physical infrastructure
  • D) A preference for offline activities

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet and encourage a deeper engagement with its themes, characters, and the literary devices used by Andrew Blum.


Identify the Literary Devices

Below is a paragraph excerpted from Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. Your task is to identify the literary devices used in this paragraph.

“As I walked through the data center, the hum of the servers was like a chorus of whispering voices, telling secrets of the digital world. The blinking lights on the racks were like stars in a dark sky, guiding the flow of information. It was a world where the physical and digital intertwined, a testament to human ingenuity and the quest for connectivity.”


  1. Simile β€” “the hum of the servers was like a chorus of whispering voices” and “The blinking lights on the racks were like stars in a dark sky.” These comparisons help readers visualize and understand the atmosphere within the data center.
  2. Personification β€” Describing servers as having “whispering voices” and lights that guide “like stars” imbues these inanimate objects with life-like qualities, making the data center seem alive with activity.
  3. Metaphor β€” The paragraph itself serves as a metaphor for the internet, depicting it as a place where the physical and digital worlds merge. This reinforces the book’s central theme of exploring the tangible aspects of the internet.
  4. Imagery β€” The vivid descriptions of the data center’s environment, from the humming servers to the blinking lights, evoke a clear, sensory experience for the reader, painting a detailed picture of the scene.

This exercise demonstrates how literary devices enrich narrative, making complex concepts like the workings of a data center more relatable and engaging for readers.