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Networks of New York: An Illustrated Field Guide to Urban Internet Infrastructure

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A guided tour of the physical Internet, as seen on, above, and below the city’s streets
What does the Internet look like?
It’s the single most essentail aspect of modern life, and yet, for many of us, the Internet looks like an open browser, or the black mirrors of our phones and computers. But in Networks of New York , Ingrid Burrington lifts our eyes from our screens to the streets, showing us that the Internet is everywhere around us, all the time—we just have to know where to look.
Using New York as her point of reference and more than fifty color illustrations as her map, Burrington takes us on a tour of the urban  She decodes spray-painted sidewalk markings, reveals the history behind cryptic manhole covers, shuffles us past subway cameras and giant carrier hotels, and peppers our journey with background stories about the NYPD's surveillance apparatus, twentieth-century telecommunication monopolies, high frequency trading on Wall Street, and the downtown building that houses the offices of both Google and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.
From a rising star in the field of tech jounalism, Networks of New York is a smart, funny, and beautifully designed guide to the endlessly fascinating networks of urban Internet infrastructure.

The Internet, Burrington shows us, is hiding in plain sight.


First published August 16, 2016

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Ingrid Burrington

4 books8 followers

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5 stars
50 (23%)
4 stars
78 (36%)
3 stars
71 (33%)
2 stars
13 (6%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews
Profile Image for Deane Barker.
Author 6 books34 followers
September 16, 2016
This is an extremely short book (like, 100 small pages with lots and lots of pictures). Start to finish, it might take you 30 minutes.

It's more of a handbook of the different physical markers you can find of the internet in NYC. It has a directory of manhole covers, for instance, and descriptions of what different pavement markings mean.

There's some neat trivia here, but if you're looking for more specifics about how internet infrastructure works, you're probably looking for "Tubes."
Profile Image for Kassie.
284 reviews
December 4, 2019
A short read to gear up before looking at The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff, and a truly fascinating look at the many layers of infrastructure that occupy the actual space of our cities to make the internet possible. I hope Burrington gets to expand on some of the hinted at histories in this book, but regardless of what is next for the author I am looking forward to seeing what they do.
Profile Image for amy.
663 reviews
January 15, 2022
Superb! An excellent field guide for urban exploring, everyday noticing, and then crying (because surveillance). I love the three-part format of the book: how to spot clues to urban network infrastructure underground, at surface level, and overhead. It calls back to 19th-century depictions of cities as layered networks/spaces, from Victor Hugo describing Paris from above (in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame) and below (in Les Misérables), to street-and-sewer cutaway views in etchings of London and Paris. Wondering if anything comparable is out there for D.C., or if I need to build my own.
Profile Image for Hank.
5 reviews
April 7, 2019
Mind-blowing. Ready to dedicate multiple weekends to wandering the streets of NYC looking for all of the artifacts in this book.
Profile Image for Artur Coelho.
2,271 reviews60 followers
September 4, 2016
Um livro curioso, que olha para elementos da paisagem urbana que estão expressamente concebidos para passarem despercebidos. O foco está nos indícios físicos das redes digitais, imperceptíveis ao olhar dos transeuntes mas legíveis para quem conhece os seus códigos linguísticos específicos. Passa por edifícios cuja única função é albergar e interligar infraestruturas de rede, pela taxonomia das caixas que albergam desde antenas wifi a câmaras de video-vigilância e sistemas pouco conhecidos de vigilância tecnológica, até às tampas de esgoto, sinalizadas de acordo com as empresas que controla, as condutas subterrâneas para passagem de cabos de dados e telefone. De forma concisa, apesar de explorar o tecido empresarial e estatal que sustenta estas redes, este livro é um pequeno guia visual de catalogação e reconhecimento dos elementos urbanos de infraestrutura digital. A vida nos ecossistemas do antropoceno é feita destas tecnologias. Desenhadas para serem invisíveis, acessíveis através de uma linguagem de logotipos e equipamentos, compreensível apenas por aqueles que estão encarregues de lidar com estes sistemas.
Profile Image for Dan Brian.
29 reviews2 followers
September 8, 2016
Networks of New York is a simple guide to New York's network infrastructure and how to identify much of it from the street level. Burrington's writing is entertaining and the content is well researched. But what's real eye opening is the book's guide to identifying municipal surveillance equipment and how much of it is on the streets of New York City. Even if you don't live in NYC, most of the information is still applicable to many U.S. cities and towns.

A fun read for infrastructure nerds and tourists, alike. Also, the book's design and presentation is excellent.
Profile Image for Sam DiBella.
36 reviews8 followers
March 16, 2018
Technology researcher and artist Burrington reveals communications infrastructure in this debut handbook to spotting and categorizing New York City’s cables, cameras, and carrier hotels.

In this guide, Burrington addresses the question “What does the internet actually look like and where can I find it?” For her, the answer is the hardware that we use to transmit information rather than programming and connection protocols. But Networks of New York is not an enormous expository tome. It’s meant to be carried with you as you walk, to draw your attention to city features that would otherwise slip into the background. The guide is broken into three locations you can find evidence for internet infrastructure: below your feet, at street level, and in the sky. Up-to-date maps of New York’s wiring are rare, so Networks of New York starts with the cryptic spraypaint scrawls construction workers use to demarcate underground telephone lines and fiber optics. At ground level, Burrington covers Manhattan’s most essential and inconspicuous data exchanges and how their placement interweaves corporate and governmental information access. Since ownership of infrastructure is usually unclear, Burrington often diverts into synopses of the infrastructure corporations that have traded and acquired one another—playfully depicting them as a series of devouring dragons and alchemical reactions. The final section is a catalog of communications towers and traffic cameras visible on building roofs and street intersections. Networks of New York is also peppered with accounts of high-frequency trading, failed or overly ambitious city contracts, and government surveillance to provide context for the physical objects that are the book’s main focus. At times, recent events in New York history (9/11, the 2004 RNC) emerge to haunt her descriptions, only to evaporate before their impact is completely clear. The gaps in the guide’s explanations—the extent and location of city programs and what it’s using them for—can be frustrating, but as Burrington points out detailed information about infrastructure is often concealed by the agencies and companies that control them, both intentionally and through neglect. Instead of obsessing over these lacunae, the guide sticks to what you can learn about the city using your eyes alone.

A new way to see the city and the internet concealed within it, even if only for a spell.
Profile Image for Jill.
743 reviews31 followers
November 20, 2022
The prospect of a book that would teach you about the physical infrastructure that enables internet access and how to spot the signs of this infrastructure was tantalizing. Burrington notes that "computers have [not] really become smaller since the days of the ENIAC. It's more that the room has just gotten bigger. It's not really a room so much as it's a planet. What we think of as personal computers today are just bits of aggregate hardware in a much larger, more complicated computer that is the Internet. But living inside a computer doesn't look like a cool science fiction movie or any of the stock images used to describe the Internet. It looks like cities, highways, buildings, and the infrastructure that supports them." So Networks of New York is really an attempt to really see this enlarged room that houses the modern internet - the city itself.

Burrington talks about street markings and company names, manhole covers. We learn about junction boxes, mobile license plate readers, carrier hotels, cell towers, distributed antenna systems, RFID E-ZPass readers, ShotSpotter and surveillance cameras. Burrington’s book is accessibly written but it's a bit of a mixed bag. It's not so much a book about the infrastructure that supports the Internet in New York, as it is a book about random infrastructure that might support or USE the internet (like ShotSpotter, RFID E-ZPass). And as the title suggests, it’s quite specific to New York; the infrastructure one might encounter in, say, Vermont, might be quite different, what more compared to Europe or Asia. And I wish Burrington had included actual photographs of the infrastructure rather than using illustrations.

I would say this is more for urban infrastructure geeks.

Some interesting observations:
“The writer Quinn Norton has written about the difficulty of telling stories today in ‘a world where falling in love, going to war, and filling out tax forms looks the same; it looks like typing”

“The artist James Bridle often cites a quote from mathematician Harry Reed about the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), one of the first modern computers, created during WWII: ‘The ENIAC itself, strangely, was a very personal computer. Now we think of a personal computer as one which you carry with you. The ENIAC was actually one that you lived inside"

Profile Image for Alexander Smith.
215 reviews37 followers
February 25, 2019
Although, as far as a "street view" of the Internet and it's peripherals go, this is a nice introduction to the IoT of surveillance from the perspective of a major metro city, and the capital and maintenance involved. That said, it falls short in a few ways.

1. By "illustrated" what is meant is that quick pencil sketches were done more of the reminiscent aesthetic of witness illustrations. It is not clear to me why pictures weren't used, or at least more realistic renderings. Some of the pictures lack context, and even with the illustration, I am not sure I could spot these objects from the street. I think the "illustrated" portion of this book could have been done better.

2. I kind of feel like the average person knows about a third of what is in this book, and if they don't live in NYC, maybe about half of it is just giving you a case study rather than something you can actually go see. Adding some more in-depth journalistic references to how these objects are oriented and used would have been a supreme help to explaining what I am looking at and why! Also, it might have given the book's organization a little more clarity.

These two things taken together means that it would be hard to hand this to, say, a curious teenager and them get it... AND it doesn't quite have the development that would help someone who actually studies this stuff. Most of this can be looked up online. This book, while a really cool idea and compiles some interesting things such that someone of a "born digital", net activist, or surveillance conscious frame of mind might find useful, could have done a lot more with just a little extra work, I think.
1,472 reviews30 followers
November 25, 2018
(3.5/5) Networks of New York is a short, illustrated primer to the various pieces of hardware and infrastructure that literally make up the Internet. A quick-and-easy read, it gives you a preliminary breakdown of how those cats from YouTube make it to your phone.

I’ve always had a bit of a weird interest in Internet infrastructure, so this wasn’t entirely new material to me, though it was presented really well. Probably my favorite part of the book is Burrington’s guide to the spray-painted street markings that indicate there’s a utility duct or fiber-optic cable or microtrenching underfoot. Burrington also does a great job illustrating things like junction boxes, traffic signal controllers, and handholes. Once you start noticing these things, it’s very hard to ever ignore them entirely again. The overview of the carrier hotels of New York was also really interesting – you’re basically seeing some of the lynchpins of the Internet there.

The of New York part of the title really shouldn’t be overlooked, though. While the first half-ish of the book is applicable pretty much anywhere, much of the book is dedicated to chronicling idiosyncratically New York technology like LinkNYC and NYCWiN. While still interesting, it’s not the kind of stuff you can walk outside and see for yourself, unless you happened to be a Manhattanite. Overall, though, a very good introduction to understanding the invisible infrastructure all around us.
377 reviews
June 2, 2017
Real short book alert. Read as an e-book since to my knowledge no physical copies exist.

It's exactly what its title describes - an illustrated field guide to urban internet intrastructure - and it's cool as shit because it teaches you to recognize certain situations, symbols, and markers all around you that tie back to the internet. In essence, it's mapping the internet onto the tangible plane.

However, despite being excellent as a field guide, it's also more. It's got neat history lessons of cable companies, it demonstrates how and why certain things work, and ultimately it brings to mind how transformable geography is. Underneath everything is a series of cables and wireless devices that dictate how things happen. Burrington also writes about the problem facing low-income neighborhoods and company's reluctance to service those areas.

The only real big problem is its length - it's super short, and therefore detail is not always an utmost necessity. I would buy an expanded, 400-page physical copy because I have an interest in how the internet works (not sociologically but like how it literally runs)
2,216 reviews32 followers
January 5, 2023
2.5 Stars!

“Spaces for other people’s leisure love to evoke nostalgia for other people’s labour.”

If you are someone who is going to enjoy reading this book, then you are almost certainly going to enjoy it a lot more if you live in New York, as (suggested by the title) much of the content is unique to there.

There is an intriguing and almost playful aspect to this, the hand drawn art work and nature of the content gives off a fanzine-esque vibe which is easy to appreciate. Burrington has done a decent enough job with this, but I just found very little to get too excited about.

It’s interesting and not really all that surprising to see how many of the obscure and bizarre devices and contraptions mentioned in here are yet just more sophisticated and sinister ways that US corporations and their government spies and/or monetizes the everyday lives of the general American public.
Profile Image for Daniel.
4 reviews1 follower
October 26, 2020
Received this book a while ago when I started working at Pilot.

This is a quick and dirty explanation of the underground infrastructure in New York. Unfortunately, with a topic so historic and loaded in politics and history, there is only so much one can cover without writing a textbook.

This book does cover important telecom landmarks, however I believe that readers should also be educated in landmark historical events, a few quick ones are: Verizon's botched fios rollout, superstorm Sandy's impact on underground infrastructure, Googles' takeover of 111 8th Ave.

As much as this book lacks in depth, it is a fantastic primer and gets the reader 80% of the way.
Profile Image for Joan.
59 reviews6 followers
October 6, 2019
Ahh this was so good. Fun (and horrifying, at times) to see all the bits of internet infrastructure the author discovered.
But... this book doesn't really give a ton of background about what the internet "is" and how all the pieces she explores relate to each other or to using the internet. If you don't have much networking/technical background, it's probably a little opaque.
Profile Image for Bill O'Neill.
1 review1 follower
September 8, 2017
"Hardcover" is a gross exaggeration. It was actually heavy card stock.

"decodes spray-painted sidewalk markings" just means that the author explained that an orange arrow labeled "ATT" means that an AT&T cable is buried beneath the markings.
Profile Image for Matt Blair.
137 reviews3 followers
January 18, 2018
Comms infrastructure and public space nerds alike will love this book. It's an engaging and frequently funny look at public and private networks, and at the many social, cultural and commercial issues that are bound up in them. Well worth your time.
Profile Image for D Schmudde.
48 reviews8 followers
February 12, 2018
Succinct and informative. The author does a great job at giving an overview of internet infrastructure visible to the everyday walker. She doesn't digress nor attempt to dig deeply into any one topic or history, but provides enough context to make each artifact meaningful.
Profile Image for Lauren.
360 reviews6 followers
June 21, 2018
I wish this book was longer but at the same time this was the perfect amount of information to make me just curious enough to go out and search for more details. If you are interested in technology, this book is a great primer on the internet, though it is limited to just speaking about New York.
Profile Image for niftynei.
21 reviews12 followers
September 23, 2018
More of a who's who in NYC networking and a survey of the physical signs of Network infrastructure.
Profile Image for Cathryn.
323 reviews2 followers
May 28, 2021
Well I will definitely be removing my EZpass device from my car's windshield and placing it in the RFID protection bag, when driving around NYC from now on!
Profile Image for Suraj Barthy.
3 reviews
September 19, 2022
This gave me a new lens to look at the city. It also made me more aware of the things hidden in plain sight and truly look for the networks around us. Short read, worth it!
Profile Image for Catfish.
49 reviews
March 10, 2017
It was a _very_ short intro to the infrastructure of wireless, wired, surveillance, etc., networks in New York City. I lol'd a few times as there are some pretty funny parts. It's more of a reference book or starting point for further research. "_Networks of New York_ is a guide for practicing the everyday magic of seeing the Internet as part of a city's landscape and everyday life."
It had some great info on the big data centers in the city and the weird "dislocation" when walking around Chelsea Market aware of the government and corporate infrastructure above you and the fiber optic networks underneath your feet. It's a quick read, and liking the style of the book, I wish for something more expansive.
Profile Image for Christopher.
2 reviews
December 18, 2019
As others have mentioned, this book is very short, and meant to be used mostly as a field guide. For that, it serves its purpose. If you are walking around New York and want to know what the various markings mean and how to spot surveillance infrastructure, this book can help you.

However there are many moments where the author briefly mentions something - the various mergers and acquisitions of Telcos, crude anticompetitive practices like leaving dead copper cables to physically prevent other companies from adding new fiber, the physical overlap between internet infrastructure and law enforcement, the massive amounts of dead fiber left behind by the dotcom bubble, the effect of high frequency trading on New York‘s fiber networks, etc. - that make me wish she had written an actual book about these things.

Clearly the Author is knowledgable about these topics, and as far as I know there isn’t a thorough book on this stuff, so it’s a missed opportunity.
Profile Image for Sumanth.
7 reviews9 followers
October 20, 2016
Short, but an excellent read that opens the reader up to the entire parallel ecosystem of network infrastructure in NYC. With its pencil drawn field diagrams, 3-dimensional maps, far-reaching corporate acquisition history and sly pop-culture references, Networks of NY accentuates your understanding of the city and your part in its working.
Profile Image for Kilean.
105 reviews6 followers
September 10, 2016
If you're interested in learning about infrastructure, specifically internet infrastructure, be it in NYC or anyplace, you'll find this book/guide informative and pretty entertaining. Highly recommend.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 33 reviews

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