Tracing the Digital/Physical

by Hans Baumann and Aidan Acker

When we use the Internet, our data traverses a path of indescribably complex network infrastructure. Seemingly invisible, this infrastructure – fiber optic cables, network switches, data centers – imprints the land. The path data takes on its journey through the Internet is rarely predictable; sensing latency in one connection, network equipment reroutes data via an alternate route. An email sent from New York to Linz may be rerouted over a longer distance of network cables, yet arrive faster via this indirect path. Although the Internet is composed of physical infrastructure, digital networks do not respect conventional geography. The Internet has been mapped with varying degrees of accuracy and success, yet previous efforts treat the digital realm as if it were not grounded by geography. However, the increasing presence of augmented reality technologies and the proliferation of spatial data have led to an unprecedented degree of overlap between the digital and physical realms. Data infrastructure now mutates spatial relationships. This project will map the infrastructure of the internet at several scales and use these maps to examine the relationship between data networks and transportation and energy flows. Using digital tracing technology, we will map connections between places, but we will also map the paths that data travels between these places and explore how an essentially aspatial phenomenon – data – is grounded in the landscape by energy use and transportation flows. Notions of access and political divisions (e.g., China’s Great Firewall) will be confronted as will the influence of natural phenomenon on digital networks (e.g., the Alps). This project thus uses cartography to illustrate how new forms of mobility and communication have fundamentally altered the spatial relationships that organize our human planet and depicts how these new and emergent forms – organized by digital infrastructure –will shape settlement patterns and resource use in the future.


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