At the core of the internet is . . . no core?

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original image

A teacher in high school once told me that the way to win a war was not through nukes and weapons. He told us that wiping out a country’s electricity was the way to really break them, ‘they’d be screwed!’ It makes total sense; the electricity system is comprised of central hubs which create and distribute matter. This was the standard design for most information networks prior to the birth of the internet (source), the logic of which was the ideas of control and communication. If one of these hubs is destroyed, then the potential for electricity to move from point A to point B is reduced, or even removed – and there goes just about all sources of communication and control. The diagram below provides a basic visual representation of this idea. If the hub is destroyed, there is no way for information or matter to reach from one yellow square (node) to another.



The flaw in the design of information systems was noticed by Paul Baran, who came up with the idea of a distributed network. Baran was interested in the ‘survivability of communication networks in the event of a nuclear attack’ (source).



The internet was totally unprecedented in design; it went against the aforementioned logic and became the first distributed network. The internet gave each end node (or user) equal control. Until this point, nodes had merely been access points to the central mainframe, or hub. Paul Baran came up with the idea of building the distributed network and followed this with a new technique of data transmission known as packet switching (see diagram below).


This meant that the internet became virtually unbreakable. Even if a whole bunch of nodes were destroyed, a message could still be sent to its destination. This is because there is no planned path of travel and no central hub. A message is effectively tossed like a hot potato between nodes until it reaches its destination. It doesn’t matter which route it takes, it will eventually settle at its intended recipient. Additionally, each node has the ability to broadcast information to the entire network and is designed to be equal to its peers. This removes any sort of hierarchy, gatekeepers or control.

This idea is cemented in John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (1996). Barlow distinguishes between tangible matter, which the government has control over, and ‘cyberspace, the new home of mind’.

 “You have no sovereignty where we gather” (Barlow, 1996)

The impact of the internet’s design is huge; it is anarchy in a pure and perfect form. It’s not overly efficient and not regulated, but it doesn’t matter. It’s invincible by design, which is actually really comforting. Nevertheless, the government have been on the tail of the internet for decades, and it is imperative that they do not gain control of it (assuming they haven’t already). Regulation and control, or attempts thereof, by the government have the capacity to harm the internet’s anarchic state. This is an area which needs to be treated with caution in the future.



10 thoughts on “At the core of the internet is . . . no core?

  1. Hi Claire !

    I really enjoy the idea in the beginning of your blog. A nation would die if its power is shut down. I totally agree because if I lived without electricity I would die in 6 hours.
    You made really clear analysis of the content of this week topic about how the global communication system has changed from centralized to distributed and from controlled to free. It relates perfectly with the idea of the central hub, or the electricity source of a country.
    I agree with you that change makes the Internet unbreakable. Moreover, I think that new comers are always welcomed, but any member can be easily excluded once it does not meet the condition to engage. You did great with hyperlinks too.
    My only recommendation is maybe you should include several real examples to justify all those ideas 😉

    Great work. Keep it up !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Claire

    You analysed this week’s topic really well! using personal experience of what your teacher said was excellently used. A nation would definitely crumble without electricity. The ideas you used throughout this post efficiently allows us to understand the topic a lot more, especially using Paul Baran’s and John Perry Barlow’s ideas. Whilst the internet itself is anarchy and not controlled like you said, it’d be interesting to think about what it would be like if it was controlled.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahhh YES that meme. You’ve managed to capture the topic so succinctly – not easy at all!
    The text which accompanies your remediation is also a great summary of the transition to a distributed network.
    Unfortunately it seems the kind of cyber-utopia declared by Barlow no longer exists. I read a super interesting (and kind of depressing) article about the fracturing of cyberspace and “the public internet” into many internets, more akin to a nation-state model. Worth a read!
    Great work x

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Yo,

    Cool post. It’s always worth reminding us how fragile modern networks, internet or other, can be if we don’t pay them enough mind.
    Interestingly, this came up today

    Could be a point for a future post. Though it’s hardly ground shaking as of yet it is indicative of both the need for at least some regulation and which organisations will/are currently governing the internet on some level.

    Thanks for the great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really good exploration of the weeks topic. You’re explanation of central hubs and why they cannot be used to control the internet really helped me better understand the topic.
    An article that I have recently come across is:
    It outlines why the internet can never truly be controlled further backing up your concept that ‘the internet gave each end node (or user) equal control’ and the power to share a free flow of information.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Claire, it’s really interesting to know there is no real central point of the Internet and a little comforting that the whole internet itself can’t be shut down because of that…
    That being said I liked the fact the ‘no electricity’ could ruin countries and turn the world basically backwards. The thought scares me too much! Like everyone doing a digital media degree, most of what I do involves electricity and I would be lost without it.

    Liked by 1 person

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