This is more personal anecdote than a scholarly discussion, but it relates to the materiality of digital media and was an event that escaped most Western media outlets.
Six years ago, in April, there was a large earthquake off the Southern coast of Taiwan that severed almost all of the data cables linking East Asia to the West. At the time, I was living in Ji’nan, China at the time, a fairly large industrial city. What I remember being particularly strange about it was that the internet “worked” but I was suddenly very aware of where the data was being housed. For example, Google.com was inaccessible (as was my Gmail account), but Google.com.cn worked beautifully. International calls to the U.S. didn’t work, but a call to anywhere in Asia was reasonably easy. Business and the media got back online after a few days but I didn’t have much access at all to anything in the U.S. for several months. At the time, I don’t think anyone I knew had any knowledge of these deep-sea cables or that they were so fragile. I remember having almost no access to anything written in English which was hard at the time since my Chinese wasn’t so good yet and reading the NYTimes (when it was still free) was stress-free morning routine for me. Anyone who’s ever read the Chinese-printed China Daily knows it’s a small tabloid. I read articles about how businesses could use MSN Messenger, which was in wide-spread use, and works were reporting being “bored.” It was a lesson for me in the intricacies and physicality of the World Wide Web.
For those interested some articles: