A Node in a Vast Network

Lesson Plan from “Programming the World” Syllabus

Nick Lally, nlally@wisc.edu

Quick Description

Global Internet data flowing from New York. From the New York Talk Exchange project of the Senseable City Lab at MIT.

In this lesson, students are taught how to find, geolocate, and map IP addresses to see how a device makes global connections. I designed this lesson for a lower-level global history of computing course within a geography department that asks students to situate a personal computer (a laptop or cellphone) within a global context. This activity mirrors site-based approaches to global history that begin with a specific object of interest and trace connections outwards. It would be relevant to classes that explore research methods, computer history, and/or digital media theory.

Learning Objective(s)

This lesson will help students:

*Critically assess discourses surrounding communication technologies.
*Apply a site-based research method to explore global connections emanating from an object of study
*Learn how to access and explore geolocated data stored on computational devices
This lesson will serve as a starting point for further research and exploration, culminating in a short paper that situates their device in a global historical context. The lesson will begin with a technical exercise to access and geolocate data on their devices, but will challenge students to apply this knowledge to their particular context, analyze patterns of information, and eventually synthesize these findings with geographic concepts introduced in class. This fits within the larger course goal of introducing students to different approaches and methods relevant to global history.

Course Plan

This lesson will serve as an introduction to a new unit on site-based or actor-network theory approaches to global computer history, which trace connections outward from a chosen object of study. It will follow a unit focused on more traditional meta-narrative approaches. While this unit incorporates a different approach, the previous week’s unit will help students analyze their findings using larger geopolitical and historic contexts. The following lessons in the unit will focus on global commodity chains that enable the production of their device.

Click image for book review.

Related Reading

For this week:

*Chapter 1, “Networks of Universalization” (1-22) from Armand Mattelart’s Networking the World, 1794-2000 to introduce students to the utopian rhetoric that has accompanied various communication technologies throughout history.

*“pandora’s vox: on community in cyberspace” by humdog (1994), an early critique of online communities.

*Turner, F. 2005. Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy: The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community. Technology and Culture, 46(3), 485-512, which traces intersections between personal computing and the utopian thinking of back-to-the-landers in the 1970s.

For the following week (when we begin exploring the commodity chain):

*“Blood on Your Handset” by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy in Slate, which introduces students to the mining of conflict materials that are essential to the production of computers.

*“The Strange Second Life of America’s Only Rare Earth Mine” by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan in Gizmodo, which introduces students to the complex geopolitics of rare earth metals that are also essential to computer production.

Student-Centered Activity

Part I, 40 min: Students will be asked to work in groups of two to pull as much geolocated data from their devices as they can and map it out using Google maps. This will involve finding IP addresses in email headers and geolocating them, accessing activity logs from social media, and looking up area codes from phone calls and text messages. Students will be encouraged to find unique sources of geolocated data and surprising connections.

Part II, 15 min: While still in their groups, students will be asked to reflect on their findings and position themselves in relation to the readings. On half sheets of paper (which will be collected), students will list observations prompted by the following questions: Where did they find evidence of global connections as positively described in the readings? Where did they find moments of commodification? Or possibilities for surveillance? How do they position their own thinking about these devices in relation to theoretical frameworks that have been drawn out in the class?

Materials Needed

A projector for instruction, computers for students to work on, and half sheets of paper for students to list findings from Part II.


A short introduction will be used to briefly highlight some of the main points from the readings, including competing visions of global connectivity, which will help situate this exercise. Internet Protocol (IP) addresses will be explained, both in their functioning and importance in structuring contemporary global networks.

Directions for Students

Students will be introduced to some techniques that can be used to gather the necessary data. For example, students will be show how to access the raw source code from emails, harvest IP addresses, use an IP tracker to geolocate them, and plot these coordinates on a custom online map.

PART I: Exploring IP Addresses

1. Search google for “ip address”
2. Copy your public IP address
3. Enter it into iplocation.net
4. Copy one of the latitude/longitude coordinates
5. Paste them into the search bar at maps.google.com to find your location

PART II: Harvesting IP Addresses from Email

1. Open an email in gmail.com (this will work for other services with slightly modified directions)
2. Click on the down arrow in the top right corner of the email
3. Select “Show original”
4. Find the IP address following the text “Received: from”
5. Use instructions #3-5 in “PART I” to geolocate the addresses<

PART III: Mapping locations

1. Go to maps.google.com (This will work on other map services with slightly modified directions)
2. Click on the menu button in the top left corner of the screen (three horizontal lines)
3. Choose “My Maps”
4. Select “CREATE MAP”
5. Enter latitude/longitude into the search bar
6. Click on the marker that appears
7. Select “Add to map”

PART IV: More geolocations

1. Encourage students to search for other geolocatable data on their device. For example, many social media sites track location data. Area codes from calls and texts can also be mapped using similar methods.


Afterwards, we will regroup for a short discussion to share interesting discoveries from Part I and discuss thoughts from Part II. I expect students to discover (1) new ways of thinking about doing global digital studies, (2) the breadth of global connections that their devices make, (3) the surprising amount of stored data that is geolocatable, and (4) hints of global infrastructures as they see how a large amount of data is routed through the same locations (Microsoft emails going through Redmond, WA, for example). We will end with a hint of next week’s unit, which will further complicate these issues by uncovering the production side of the commodity chain, beginning with mining practices.

Lesson Plan DOWNLOAD

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