The power of the Internet is derived from its intangible, invisible properties. The ability of information to scale and traverse in an instant is transformative, and the application of that power can be used in multiple ways, some good and some not so good. Because we can not see these systems that we rely on — the hardware (routers, switches, data centers, fiber cables), and invisible properties (spectrum, wireless networks, protocol) — we are as a whole, left in the dark and unaware of how our own data exists in these networks.
The Internet is not the sum of its physical parts but rather a set of agreements: protocol. The physical is a manifestation of these ideas, and in order to truly understand what the Internet is, we need to ‘see’ and understand these intangible properties.
We as end-users do not see or understand the Internet because, in the same ways that all infrastructure is out of sight, its physicality is purposefully obscured; most of its properties are invisible (protocols, WiFi, spectrum); and the terminology handed down to us, like ‘cloud’, amplifies mis-perceptions and obfuscates the reality of how we actually interact with the Internet.
As a result, most of us are unaware of all the ways in which we give extremely personal information about ourselves and worse, how all of that information is collected, analyzed and sold to create a profile of each individual so detailed that we’ve become specialized products for sale. We’re allowing unprecedented access to our inner selves and creating conditions for behavioral manipulation and control.
This lack of knowledge is not entirely our fault, but we do have to take responsibility for our future. If we don’t begin to learn, see and understand what the Internet is and how it works, we will continue to be passive participants in a system that we almost completely depend on, watching as active entities wielding consolidating power shape the future to their liking.
We often take a breath and hope the entities that we are “agreeing” with (“trusting”) will do good. And we are presented with less than desirable options: convenience or privacy, but we can’t have both. Really though, if we can’t see it, we can’t fully trust it.
Invisible Networks is dedicated to educating and helping end-users see and understand how the Internet works so that we are enabled to make informed decisions about the Internet we want and deserve.
If we can see the Internet as a whole, we can build visual concepts and language around it, and we can understand where to place our trust. We can understand where and how common infrastructure breaches happen, and we can begin to understand how our data is used as a commodity. We will be equipped to properly secure the future of the Internet.
Shuli Hallak is an award winning professional photographer with 10 years of experience documenting core infrastructure. In 2013, she founded Invisible Networks with the mission of making the Internet visible. Currently, she is developing web-based, data driven interactive visuals that help translate technical information into an easily understandable experience.
She has spoken about her work at Google headquarters and Radical Networks conference in New York.
Her work has been published in Fortune, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg News, Slate, Orion among others.
Shuli has a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis; an M.F.A in Photography from The School of Visual Arts, and Web Development training from General Assembly.