The Black Stack

Matthew Blackburn

CDS3001 Digital Publishing


Have you ever stopped to think about how everything around us works?

The mobile phone you are using is a device created for instant communication between yourself and one or more people. But how does it work? You can click on a button to promptly enable a Wi-Fi connection. But what does that mean? For most, the term Wi-Fi stands for “something we panic about when we cannot find it.” When in actuality, it is an invisible phenomenon that we rely on every day lest our world erupt into chaos.

A common, daily occurrence in the lives of EVERYONE is to sign into Facebook and browse the various timelines of friends and strangers alike. But what are you actually doing when you type in your username and password? The ‘cloud,’ in short, is a particularly mute piece of infrastructure. It is just there, atmospheric and part of the environment, and works by using a system of networks that pools computing power. When you register your username and password into Facebook or Twitter or YouTube or any other media application that relies on a personal account, the information you are giving is sent through the cloud to the particular website/application’s online database where it will create an account in the database for that user’s specific information (name, date of birth, username, password etc.). Once that’s created, the next time the user tries to log in with their new account details, the website/application will then check the online database again and see if the username and password entered by the user match what they have listed for their account in the database. If the input details by the user are the same as the database recorded details for that user (the username and password match), then the user will gain access to that particular website/application.

It all seems quite dense to understand, but it is the basis for everything technologically based. While the concept of the ‘cloud’ is invisible, it exists only from physical data centers dispersed across the world. In the present day, information stored in the cloud subsists in space, invisible to us yet ever prominent. Before this, however, data was sent across the world through a physical infrastructure which has often been referred to as the ‘backbone’ of the Earth.

The Transatlantic Cable Network consists of a series of cables dispersed under the Atlantic Ocean. The cables in use are called ‘fiber optic’ cables and they are a direct link through which they connect one country to the rest of the globe for voice and data transmission. Majority of the world’s telecommunications and Internet traffic flows through these network of cables. By examining a geography of networks, we can conclude that old has been displaced and new has been layered adjacent. Space on the Earth is always being made obsolete by physical objects and that is because the built environment is a perfect place for these networks to exist.

But what do the cables connect? Data centers, like the National Security Agency, have been designed to cope with the vast increases in digital data that have accompanied the rise of the global network. The NSA’s data center in Bluffdale, Utah, was the first Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cyber-Security Initiative (IC CNCI) data center, which was designed to monitor, regulate, and ‘protect’ the nation of America. It was built in 2012, and since then data centers have been popping up all over the globe, in countries like China (Range International Information Group), India (Tulip Data Centre) and The United Kingdom (Next Generation Data Europe). Any typical data center the size of the NSA’s requires 1.7 million gallons of water per day to cool its 12 exabytes of storage. That’s alottabytes!

So then why is infrastructure like this built? Let’s break it down into something simple, like calling or emailing a friend. A target’s phone call or chat will take the cheapest path, not the physically most direct. You can never predict which path the call or chat will take, so the information which you think is confidential, could easily be flowing into and through the US, the UK, India etc. So who’s to say that the US isn’t listening to your phone calls or reading your emails? The answer is, anyone with nothing to hide.

It’s just like the NSA says,

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

This website educates further on the concept of the ‘cloud,’ in addition to the fears and speculations that the user has in regards to the confidentiality of their personal information and the discussion of the Anthropocene. We as humans have indeed made our impact on the Earth in its totality. But what is yet to come? The beginning of the digital age predicts the slavery of man to technology, in the most dystopian sense of the phrase. So what is stopping this from happening? Google's Wael Ghonim stated that, "If you want to liberate a society, just give them the internet. If you want to have a free society, just give them the internet."

But how then, does one liberate a society who already has the internet?


Enter the Black Stack.