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DESMA 9 Art + Science + Technology Fall 2013

Professor Victoria Vesna Section 1B


Information Super-Highway
Comparing the Internet to Transportation Networks

Name: Arthur Steven Wolf

Through observation of and interaction with the information super-highway exhibit, a participant will learn the basics of how a packet switched network and the internet work. The intent of the project is to educate the public on how the internet works through a familiar comparison to the transportation network of highways, roads, and intersections.


I am specifically interested in exploring how interactive three-dimensional displays and analogies to familiar examples can educate the public about how the internet provides us with information.
The internet is a packet switched network, in which information is broken up into small pieces of data known as packets and sent independently via a network of wires and cables to a final destination. Once they arrive at the end user, the packets are then reassembled and presented in their original form1.


As of June 2012, 2.4 billion people used the internet worldwide2. However, in a recent survey of 1,000 Americans, 51 percent of the respondents believed that stormy weather could interfere with cloud computing3. Clearly there is a disconnect between the public and knowledge of how the internet works. In Kurose & Ross textbook on computer networking, an extended analogy of a factory needing to move a large amount of cargo to a destination many kilometers away to sending a large amount of data over a packet switched network.


A model city will be built to scale. The city will contain factories, roads, freeways, freeway intersections, cars and trucks. The cars and trucks will move via tracks along the roads and freeways using slot-car technology4. There will be audio recordings explaining various concepts in computer networks through comparison to the transportation example. There will also be buttons and a touch screen to control the audio playback and the actions of the vehicles. This will allow the user to digest the information at his or her own pace.

Project Proposal (cont.)

The subject will press a button on the touch screen to start the interactive exhibit. The audio will begin to explain how packet-switched networks, like the internet, are similar to the transportation networks of highways, roads, and intersections which transport vehicles. The recording will present the example of a factory needing to move a large amount of cargo several kilometers away. To start, the cargo is segmented into a fleet of trucks, just like information is broken up into packets. At this point in the audio recording, trucks from a factory on the model will start to drive away from a factory and take different routes along the roads and freeways. The audio will explain how each truck takes an independent route along the network of highways, roads, and intersections.

Project Proposal (cont.)

The interstate highway system and the internet backbone.

The recording would explain how the communication links made of cables and wires are analogous to the roads and highways, and how packet switches are analogous to intersections. The trucks would gradually arrive at the end warehouse. The audio would explain that just as the trucks take different paths to the warehouse, so to packets take different physical routes to the end user, but they eventually end up in the same place. Thus, transportation of information over the internet is much like transportation of materials via highways and roads.


Billions of people use the internet, yet so few of them actually know how it works. It is quite a difficult concept to understand, but through public display of an interactive exhibit like the one presented, the visual learners among us may be better able to understand the basics of a packet switched network. Furthermore, the familiar analogy to a transportation network may aid long term retention of the concepts learned. Overall, basic knowledge of how the internet works will allow users of the internet to move beyond consumers and become digital citizens who may one day contribute to the internet.

1) Kurose, James F., and Keith W. Ross. Computer Networking: A Top-Down Approach. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2013. Print.
2) "World Internet Users Statistics Usage and World PopulationStats." Internet World Stats. N.p., 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <>. 3) "Most Americans Confused By Cloud Computing According to National Survey." N.p., 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <>. 4) Chang, Dave. The Slot Car Handbook. 1st ed. Ramsbury: Crowood, 2007. Print.

Bibliography / Links
"How Does the Internet Work?" HowStuffWorks. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.
"How It Works: Why People Should Know Internet Basics." OpenMedia at McGill. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>. "Internet Society." Brief History of the Internet. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>. "Maps to Market Your Network." Mundi Magazine. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>. "Most Americans Confused By Cloud Computing According to National Survey." 28 Aug. 2012. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>. "Optical Touch: How It Differs from Other Technologies." NextWindow. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.