According to my version of Firebug, if you are reading this page from the United Kingdom it took approximately 2.63 seconds for you to receive the 63.4 kilobytes of data that constitute this page, with an empty cache. Doubtless there are numerous proxy servers and caches between myself and the WordPress.com server which may make the process faster, but according to Traceroute giving me raw data, the server of WordPress.com is in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. This is 3862.10 miles away as the crow flies but it is important to note by request does not travel a direct route. There 17 servers between myself and the WordPress.com server, and between the sixth and eighth hop on its journey, the data transfers from a server in Hampshire in the UK to a server in Frankfurt in Germany before returning to the UK for a few hops before going from here to one in Atlanta, Georgia in the US. This journey from Hampshire to Frankfurt is approximately 1,078 miles by road and would take you seventeen hours to drive – it takes 0.4 milliseconds. Our transatlantic jaunt takes 88.3 milliseconds or 0.0883 seconds, before heading out from there, after a spell, to New York, then finally reaching its destination. During this process there was 0% loss of information, the packets I sent from my computer here arrived in Chicago in perfect condition. This does not recognise the fact that another traceroute to this site could go by another route, and does not include all the other operations that are part of my receiving of the webpage, for example, getting the images for the avatars from Gravatar.com, which apparently has some servers in Los Angeles, California, ten hops away.
Now, WordPress.com, which runs this site, runs on the GNU/Linux operating system (and Gravatar.com), the Nginx server using a robust version of WordPress MU, that depends upon both the PHP language and a MySQL database. In turn, the compilation and assembly of all these piece of software depend upon some kind of compiler, in this case, more than likely gcc, the GNU Compiler Collection. The browser I am using is Mozilla Firefox, the operating system Mac OS X, which has a kernel based on elements of FreeBSD that is called Darwin, all of which were compiled by this same compiler (note: Apple’s attitude to their kernel is problematic, there is no doubt). Everything I have mentioned in Open Source with licenses at varying levels of freedom, many of which are under the ‘free as in thought’ GNU license. In running Nginx, WordPress.com is unusual, but the open source software Apache run the majority (47.12%) of web servers on the internet. Let’s just take on example, WordPress MU. WordPress MU has 203,636 lines of code, but is being dissolved into WordPress itself which has 207,547 lines of code. Every line of this code has been written by a human being, an every line itself as been revised, checked, edited, refined. It is the product of literally thousands of developers, working together towards a common and freely available project. How is this not a community, with its difficulties, splits, problems, ethos and meetings both virtual and actual? Extending these estimations outwards to embrace every other element of open source software created in this single internet transaction makes the numbers dizzying. In 2001 Red Hat Linux 7.1 contained 30,152,114 lines of code, estimated to take a single person 7,956 years to complete. This number, by 2010, is probably far greater. Just as an example, in 2001 the Linux kernel was 3,377,902 lines of code, in February this year it is 12,990,041 lines of code. This does not even begin to consider the communities that came up with the TCP/IP protocol, XHTML, the PNG format – I could go on.
Now, tell me, how are any of these things, from the establishing of servers that allow internet transactions, or more vitally to the community practices that facilitate these examples of open source software, more often than not divorced from any profit motive, not ‘concrete’ practices of work in the same way that some kind of hand waving ‘localism’? Are they not at least as interesting and incredible versions of human interaction as running a back to the land farm?