Posted by Neil Bennett 04 April 2014
The Internot: 10 journalists imagine what would happen if the Internet stopped working tomorrow
Imagine if the internet stopped working tomorrow. Think what life would be like if a virus, terrorism, the army or just plain incompetence meant whoever controls the big switch (well, it’s ICANN) had to hit their giant off button permanently We asked 10 journalists to conceive what a world without the Web, email, social media or maybe without even the Internet-powered communication tomorrow that powers everything from paying for dinner by credit card to the retail analytics that ensure Tesco always has enough steaks. Would they be scared or liberated, bored, lost or finding new ways to experience the real world?
The end of easy knowledge
The ability to find any information, for free, within a few seconds is something we all (well, those of us in the first world at any rate) take for granted these days. Whether it’s a recipe for microwave chocolate cake, the current exchange rate, weather forecast, or a How To video explaining how to fit new brake pads to your Peugeot 206, it’s all there.
For that Umbilical Cord of Knowledge to be cut would be the most devastating thing for me. More devastating than not having a mobile phone.
It’s easy to forget what it was like before the internet. Just as everyone wonders how they managed before they had a phone in their pocket, a mass internet switch-off would see a return to traipsing down to the local library to find an out-of-date encyclopaedia. Magazine sales would rise, and we’d see a return of the tome-like issues of the 1990s – replete with catalogues of things to buy.
The end of shopping from home
If I didn't have the internet then I would have serious a serious problem – having to go shopping.
I pretty much hate any shopping experience, bar the ones where it's necessary or far batter to see a product in the flesh before you buy it such as a sofa. The thought of walking around a busy shopping mall with people trying to hand out leaflets, make you go paintballing and shop assistance being their annoying selves makes me shudder.
I don't suffer from claustrophobia but I do not enjoy crowded spaces (whatever the phobia word for that is) which is exactly what shopping is like, even with the internet. If there was no internet then I would have to venture out of the house, not a bad notion in itself, but to head to even busier shops.
The choice available on the internet is brilliant and the ability to compare prices and deals between retailers in seconds just can't be matched on the high street – I find great satisfaction from seeking out a bargain. There's also the fact you can sit at home in the warm (it's probably raining outside) with a cup of tea with the TV or Hi-Fi on. Let's not forget that your shopping is then delivered right to your door, bliss.
The end of staying in touch
With a twin brother (above with me) on what seems like the other side of the world (or at least what might as well be, given the air fares to Canada), I wouldn’t only miss the internet if it were gone, but I'd miss him, too. And that goes for other long-lost relatives cousins who have grown up and had their own families, aunts and uncles now enjoying the retired life old school friends and even those people who you simply wish you had more time in the day in which to talk to them.
I haven't seen Will since December 2011, and it will be another year until I see him again. In the flesh, that is. Thanks to Skype and FaceTime I can chat to him over a video call; WhatsApp lets me text him whenever I want a chat (even if I later realise its 4am where he is); and Facebook lets us share photos and keep up to date with what's going on in each other's lives. All for free.
So while my brother might not be here in the flesh, the internet means he is always around when I need him.
The end of wide knowledge
Without the web we wouldn't have at our grasp all the ideas and experiences of the moment. How could we formulate our own opinions when the ability to read others thoughts on the matter was not available to us?
It's a scary thought. But then again, we weren't all incapable of independent thought before the internet arrived, and in some ways, perhaps the proliferation of ideas and the ability for anyone to share their thoughts on any matter isn't such a good thing just look at the comments on the Daily Mail website.
The end of managed expectations
When I stop and think for a minute about what the world would be like without the internet, I get a weird mix of emotions. It's horrifying at first. I wouldn't have a job for a start, as everything I write gets published online for the world to read. I wouldn't be able to keep in touch with my far away friends via Facebook and FaceTime, and I wouldn't be able to keep up with what's happening in the world as it happens.
At the same time, it's quite an exciting thought. Without the internet, life would be more unexpected. You'd never know what's around the corner. You'd make more effort to meet up with friends face to face for a proper catch up rather than following their life online. The world would seem like a significantly smaller place, and there would be so much more to discover and explore.
Plus, I'd have a hell of a lot more time on my hands, not only because I'd be jobless but also because I spend lots of my free time online, reading blogs, watching YouTube videos and browsing social networks. I'd spend more time outside on road trip adventures, though I'd probably get lost because there would be no satnav and I'd have to read an actual map.
For a week or two, I imagine life without the internet would be a wonderful thing, and I'd feel free as a bird. But there's no doubt that the novelty would soon wear off and I'd miss all the things I love about the internet, particularly way it helps me connect with millions of people I'd probably never have met otherwise, and how it makes everyday tasks like shopping, booking appointments and finding out information so much easier.
The end of the world
If the internet stopped working, the civilised world as we now know it would end. Most of the civil infrastructure of society that supports modern life is dependent on the data that the internet backbone now carries. Without the internet, life as we know it would fall apart.
The National Grid, the gas and water utilities, are dependent on internet-facing SCADA systems to control the network. The internet was designed to be exceptionally resilient to multiple points of failure. Decision makers have relied on that robustness, so imagine what would happen if mission-critical systems built upon a ‘bomb-proof’ internet disappeared.
If the internet ‘goes down’ for 30 seconds, we’re left bemused and a little confused.
If it was switched off worldwide for an hour, confusion would turn to fear. Panic buying would start, shops would run out of food and essential supplies. Fuel pumps would start to run dry. The financial markets would soon collapse within days. Currency – all of them – would dive bomb.
By the time it had stopped working for a week, turn to any of several classic sources to see what could happen: The Day of the Triffids, Survivors, 28 Days Later… choose your own post-apocalyptic scenario here.
We’re reliant on our daily news from the internet (if not entirely so long as we still have nationwide radio and television broadcast). Without clear information about what’s happening, panic spreads.
Want to get in touch with a friend or family member? PSTN telephones may still initially work, assuming your exchange isn’t routed over IP at some point. But many people now don’t even have a regular landline and rely on their mobile (which may demand an internet trunk between cell towers) or Skype, FaceTime et al – which are of course gone now. Nearly all person-to-person comms are now gone.
More than just email and Skype and Facetwitting would vanish with no internet. With our near-total reliance on the internet to provide knowledge, we’d rue letting the bookshops and libraries close down. How to rebuild society without mankind’s store of written knowledge? Society would get feudal, nasty, brutish and probably quite, quite short.
The end of being social
It’s not that I was anti-social before the Internet but I’m in closer touch with friends and family today than I was seven or eight years ago. No Internet means no social media.
I joined Facebook and Twitter in 2007, and have used both services pretty much every day since. I use Google+, LinkedIn and Foursquare a little less.
No social media might mean you lose Followers but it wouldn’t mean you lose all your friends. It’s a good bet, however, that you quickly fall out of touch with most of them. I’m now in touch with old school and university pals who I hadn’t talked to since I was in shorts. Some live on the other side of the world, and I wouldn’t have found them without the social networks. I keep in touch with work colleagues and contacts who have since become friends. Without social media we’d have not stayed in contact, and some of them wouldn’t have met my family (in real life) or stayed over on vacations.
Facebook gets a bad press for invading and exploiting our privacy, but most of that is scare-mongering and paranoia. Keeping people in contact and sharing our news and passions is, for me, one of the Internet’s greatest achievements.
The end of porn
David Price (right) and 'friend'
We’re all trying to avoid stating the obvious, but the porn industry – and its many enthusiasts – would probably be more affected by an internet black-out than anyone else.
The web did two things for pornography: it made it almost universally accessible, and it made it hypertargeted. And it would be a massive shock to a lot of jaded deviants to go back to the pornographic conventions of the early 1990s.
For the young, porn would again be difficult to source. Would 13-year-olds be able to forage in the woods for discarded magazines, as their fathers did before them, or have those skills been lost forever? Even those legally entitled to adult publications would have to regain the courage needed to purchase them from stern, matronly shop assistants with their mouths pursed in disapproval.
And what would happen to the middle-aged onanists with laboriously honed specialist interests? It’s doubtful that the analogue print and video industries could possibly cater to the 10,000 variations on a theme that would be demanded, and the world’s tastes would presumably slowly funnel back towards the lowest common denominator - which seems like a shame, from a creative point of view if no other.
A catastrophe for porn fans, then. But my suspicion is that, after a few years of readjustment, the balance would be restored. Never underestimate the ingenuity of a pervert.
As an American temporarily living in London, I never bothered to switch my mobile data package over to a UK-friendly plan – and, boy, do I regret it. I have kept my iPhone permanently in “Airplane Mode” for the past few months in order to stop data and voice roaming charges, leaving me desperately reliant on the off chance that I might be able to pick up some free WiFi signals from a local McDonalds if I stand really close to the front door.
I never really realized how much I use the data on my iPhone every day until that wasn’t an option anymore. Now it seems to be all I can think about whenever I leave my flat. Lost in an unfamiliar area? Man, Google Maps would be really helpful right now. Want know which pub in the area is best before committing to one? Too bad I can’t just quickly check Yelp, so I guess I’ll have to wing it. Trying to meet up with a friend? Well, I can’t use iMessage, and my clunky emergency phone would cost me a whole £1.50 to send a silly text, so hopefully she’ll telepathically get my message to meet me at the Sainsbury entrance.
I was born in 1993, so I quite literally can’t remember what life was like before the Internet. I’m already struggling now with lack of Internet access even on just a temporary basis – when I’m in my flat, I’m back in the comfort of consistent WiFi, and my woes from my Internet-less outing are quickly forgotten. If the Internet disappeared completely, though, I would feel helpless, suddenly very aware of the fact that I’m not home with my friends and family in the States.
The end of this story
You wouldn’t be able to read this, which means it was pointless of me to write it. So I’ll stop now.