I am often attracted to dystopias about the last days of civilization. Yet there is a story waiting to be written, I believe, about what would happen if a chunk of civilization as we know it, the Internet, went down forever. Hard to imagine? Read about ten ways the Internet as we know it might die in this GigaOM post by Alistair Croll.
Of course, nothing much would change in the short term for the four or five billion people who don’t use the Internet today and have no prospects of doing so in the near future, despite the well-intentioned dreams of tech philanthropists. But a collapse and permanent unavailability of the Internet, after leaving the digerati temporarily inconvenienced by the end of the twitters that bathe their lives in the warm glow of a persistent friend-generated soundtrack, would drive people to dig out old fax machines from their junk closets, pay a lot more visits to their local post office, and stock up on stuff they couldn’t order online anymore. It might temporarily revive some old economy stocks, such as those of newspaper publishers (even if the immediacy and quality of newspaper content would be severely degraded) and telecom companies. (It is debatable, however, whether the volume of stock trading would keep up, given how information flows in global financial markets have come to rely on the Internet). It would spell the end of low-cost access to airline reservation systems. Over time, it would have much more far-reaching economic effects. It would destroy a huge variety of knowledge jobs and revive less skilled jobs. And of course, in the end, it would depress the chances for trading, innovation and growth for the other four or five billons of Earth dwellers, too.
The Internet was conceived with a lot of built-in redundancy, and is therefore very resilient. The death of the Internet would be a black swan – a hard-to-predict event with catastrophic consequences. Still, we have to take good care of the Internet. Because civilization without it, I reckon, would be a lot less fun.