September 1, 2016
Ingrid Burrington Mania!
by Melville House
We know the books we publish are excellent—that’s generally why we publish them—but sometimes they get an especially warm welcome into the world. This week, there’s been a huge spike of interest in one of our new titles, Ingrid Burrington’s Networks of New York, that’s got even us panting to keep up.
Networks is a field guide to the physical infrastructure that brings the internet to and through New York City, a key to making sense of the mysterious manhole sigils, recondite sidewalk scrawls, and tall, windowless towers that keep our love of cat videos and the memory of Space Jam alive. Calling it “a playful, approachable handbook,” Andy Battaglia led the wave with a killer piece in the Wall Street Journal (paywalled).
Shortly after that, a piece by Brady Dale appeared in the Observer. It begins:
Fifteenth Street used to be so nice to walk down. It has Chelsea Market, Artists & Fleas and the Highline overhead. Plus it ends to the west in that little park near the edge of the water. If you like 15th Street, though, don’t walk down it with author Ingrid Burrington. She will freak you out about 15th Street. In fact, if you walk down 15th Street with Burrington, she’ll make you want to avoid 15th Street. Except then you will realize that you can’t avoid 15th Street. Wherever you go, whatever you do, 15th Street is always watching.
You should probably keep reading.
Recently, Burrington also took a walk around Manhattan with NPR’s Jim O’Grady, to talk municipal routers and rooftop microwave antennas and even, at one point, enjoy a chance encounter with a self-proclaimed “Burrington fanboy.” Their conversation was wonderful, and NPR aired it yesterday — you can listen right here:
But that wasn’t her only foray into the NPRosphere, because yesterday morning Burrington also stopped by The Brian Lehrer Show on NPR’s New York affiliate station, WNYC. Their conversation was fascinating:
Brian: You write that “as the black boxes of finance become increasingly opaque, it’s weirdly reassuring to be able to identify their limited physical traces.” What do you have in mind?
Ingrid: One of the reasons that I think people have responded well to the book is because there is a sort of sense of increasing anxiety that we don’t know what’s going on, that the networks around us that were built by humans feel increasingly out of the capacity for human comprehension or accountability. And being able to identify actual objects and spaces is maybe a useful step towards remembering there are actual humans involved.
Hear, hear! And you can hear the entire conversation right here:
If that’s not enough for you, a piece by Kimberly M. Aquilina appeared in Metro NY, in which Burrington explains: “In 2013, after a lot of the [Edward] Snowden stories started dropping, all of these [news] stories had the worst clip art and stock photos on them. Like a black screen with some green letters and a lot of arbitrary looking things like this one photo of the NSA that was taken in the 1970s, and I just kind of thought to myself, ‘I don’t know what the internet looks like, but I don’t think it looks like this.’”
Read the whole piece here.
There was a lot more, too — this New York Times article by Emily S. Rueb listing Networks as one of its five sources, this interview Burrington gave to Diana Budds of Fast Company Design (“No one quite agrees what the internet is. The scale of just the physical objects spans the entire planet. You have things that are below the ocean, you have [satellites] that are in low earth orbit. And you have everything else in between.”), this piece by Shannon Mattern in Places Journal (describing Networks as a book in which “we find short inserts with helpful definitions and technical background about types of cable, ‘dark fiber,’ fiber’s relationship to high-frequency trading, New York City’s Domain Awareness counterterrorism system, and so forth”). Barbara Fister gave it an excellent write-up at Inside Higher Ed (“it has expanded my understanding of the actual stuff that connects us — the cables underground, the antennas that sprout on tops of buildings, the gadgetry at intersections that measures traffic and weather and who is going where”), and Burrington herself made reference to the book in an excellent recent piece at Motherboard:
My book, Networks of New York, is an illustrated guide to identifying network infrastructure, including internet cables. Conceivably, this could guide a would-be vandal to their targets—but the primary method they’d use to find those targets is a tactic explicitly already used to keep cables safe. Labeling buried utilities with color-coded flags, posts, or spray paint is a well-established part of street excavation. If one utility provider needs to do work that requires digging up a road, they need to know what’s buried under that road so they don’t end up damaging anything else buried nearby.
Alternatively, someone looking to damage some buried cable could just look for one of the entry points to the conduit like a manhole cover or junction box — which, if anyone really wanted to break those open, aren’t actually that hard to access. It’s relatively easy to buy manhole cover lifters online and even find video tutorials on how to open them.
In other words, taking out physical infrastructure is less of a hidden hack than one in plain sight — and one that by necessity has to be in plain sight, because that’s actually one of the best ways to keep this stuff safe.
In closing, we would like to suggest that this all not half-bad for a book that was published exactly two days ago.