Many people don’t think about the physical, tangible framework that allows them to surf the web, but a new field guide by writer, cartographer, and artist Ingrid Burrington is setting out to help people “see the internet” in New York City.

As part of a project she began last spring as a resident at Eyebeam, an art and technology center in New York, Burrington is mapping the networks many people take for granted. She describes it as “a guide to finding physical identifiers of pieces of network infrastructure on the street in New York City.”

“It emerged out of a curiosity of, how do you see the internet, and how do you conceive of the internet of this real physical thing that is very much part of our everyday lives,” she said.

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The guide diagrams evidence of internet infrastructure like manhole covers, street markings, antennas, and cameras. Illustrations in the book chronicle a host of symbols you’ve probably stepped over on the sidewalk before without giving a second thought to their importance.

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“You’re not supposed to notice the infrastructure, that’s kind if the point,” she said. “It’s stuff that’s designed to be ignored, it’s obscured, it’s hard to comprehend it.”

She said although her focus for this guide is New York, she has looked at other cities and found that each metropolis has distinct internet infrastructure.

“New York’s network infrastructure is a lot like the city itself: messy, sprawling, and at times near-incomprehensible,” the online guide says.

Burrington said in Berlin, for example, there are fewer street markings than in New York, because the comparatively older city has less frequent construction work. The designs on manhole covers or brands labeled on them tell their own unique stories.

“For me it’s a different lens through which to look at a city,” she said. “It’s trying to pay attention to a lot of the things that are invisible, and are supposed to be invisible, but are instrumental to how we move through the city.”

The field guide is currently on display at Eyebeam’s annual showcase. You can donate to the creation of the book or pre-order one on Burrington’s website.

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This feature is adopted from Motherboard by Kari Paul.


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