What the Internet looks like when it's not a patent drawing

In contrast to yesterday's post about the way the Internet is depicted in patent drawings, check out these photos of the Internet's secret actual infrastructure.

Photographer Heinrich Holtgreve's The Internet as a Place is a beautiful series of images of the deceptively banal places where the Internet's infrastructure lives — the fiber passing through the Suez canal, the exchanges where networks talk to each other, the anonymous buildings and sewer openings that lead to dark spaces that course with data.

On a recent trip to NYC, Henrik Moltke led me on a guided tour of the sidewalks around NASDAQ, which are spraypainted with markings indicating whose fiber goes where. It's precisely because these markings are so innocuous and easy to miss that they're exciting — a form of secret knowledge that can be discovered by anyone who chooses to see it.

His first stop was Egypt. The country is a major hub for undersea cables, 11 of which now run through the Suez Canal to connect people as far away as Germany and Malaysia. Holtgreve spent three months trying to visit places like the Cairo Internet Exchange, but no dice. Such places thrive by assuring their members of the utmost security. That means not advertising what's inside, much less letting a photographer poke around with a Canon 5D Mark III. Even when someone would let him in, he wouldn't always to take pictures. "I was shown around another data center in Cairo, but I wasn't allowed to bring my camera," he says. "They half-jokingly suspected me for being an Israeli spy."

Still, he caught a few breaks. Holtgreve met a friendly dentist who let him photograph the Cairo exchange building from his balcony. Someone who worked for an undersea cable company gave him the GPS coordinates of a beach manhole in Alexandria where cables like SEA-ME-WE-4 and FLAG meet land. In the desert near Cairo, he photographed a warehouse owned by a major French global telecom equipment company. Hundreds of seemingly ancient antennas sat dusted with sand. "It felt like walking around Mos Eisley," Holtgreve says.

This Is What the Internet Looks Like IRL [Laura Mallonee/Wired]