NETWORK

"I ignored the flashes of lightning all around me. They either had your number on them or they didn't."

I have Luddite tendencies.

They're only tendencies. I don't bury silver in the yard or refuse to use an ATM or keep my money in a mattress because the banking system is all hokum, I tell ya. My preparations for Doomsday thus far consist of getting drunk and waiting for Thunderdome. Hell, a few months ago I even got an iPhone.

Nonetheless I have never been able to shake the fear that the technological edifice on which modern society is built is vulnerable to collapse. I have done all my banking online for the better part of a decade. It's convenient. But it also worries me – that nightmare scenario where we all wake up one morning and everything is just…gone. It's in the back of my mind.

There is nothing to be gained by giving in to the fear and becoming a cash-only person with a stuffed mattress. If society collapses because electronic data and the networks that move it about collapse, your cash dollars aren't going to be worth shit anyway. Neither is your silver. The best currency to have will probably be whiskey or gasoline. So I bank online and shop online and store my students' grades online and keep in touch with 100 different people online and get all of my news about the world online. Like everyone else under the age of 65, I am nearing the point at which I do essentially everything online.

Sidebar: I barely understand how the internet works. I've asked people to explain it to me like I'm five years old many times. At this point I kind of get it. A little. The basics. But there's something about it I just don't get in the same way that some people don't get calculus or Latin or Trace Adkins. That said, I have worked the problem and made improvements.

I just read The Worm by Mark Bowden (recommended) so it is possible that I have been swayed by a viewpoint held only by alarmists and Chicken Littles. Nonetheless, it paints a very plausible set of scenarios – plausible not meaning imminent or even likely, but merely within the realm of realistic possibility – for the exploitation of the security vulnerabilities of the thing we call the internet. Worms, viruses, and other malicious creatures could, in skilled but nefarious hands, bring the internet to a grinding halt. We're lucky in the sense that most "hackers" (remember when that was a thing?) are interested solely in making money when they engineer viruses and cast them out into the world. But despite the author's caveats, the book leaves the distinct impression that someone – a hostile nation, a non-state group, a "Let's watch the world burn" nihilist – could engineer a much more disastrous outcome by exploiting any of a number of vulnerable points in the system.

People like to joke about what would happen if the internet stopped working. Imagine everyone flipping out when they can't check Facebook! Ha ha. Indeed, people would lose their marbles to an amusing extent if the sites we use to kill time online disappeared. The internet and the machines connected to it are more than just a means of delivering diversions though. They are our entire financial system. They are the power grid. They are air traffic control. They are distribution and delivery networks. It would be funny when we lost Facebook and TMZ. It would be less funny when we see the on-hand supply of food and fuel in major cities without a constant flow of incoming shipments.

Like most people, I deal with such thoughts – scenarios too terrible to comprehend fully and about which I can do nothing – by sticking my head in the sand. Thinking about such things would drive me nuts (moreso). There are steps, theoretically, that could be taken to prevent malicious attacks on the internet, not all of which are taken and none of which are 100% effective. So the risk is like that of getting on an airplane. You know the plane is probably safe, but you also know goddamn well that if today's the day that both engines take bird strikes or one of your fellow passengers smuggles a bomb on board, there's really nothing you can do. You're screwed, and that's that.

That is what I mean by Luddite tendencies. I'm not technology averse, but I am wary. I know that the internet is awesome and convenient in the same way that flying is. And I know that like flying, when something goes wrong it is likely to go horribly, catastrophically wrong with dire consequences for everyone on board. Most of me loves the internet, and the other part of me is the one that thinks it is amazing that our luck has held even this long.

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50 Responses to “NETWORK”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Air disasters where there are many survivors are actually a lot more common than most people think. A recent example was the Asiana flight that crashed at SFO last year, when only three people out of 200-odd were killed, and one of those was run over by rescue personnel because they couldn't see her under all the firefighting foam. In 1983, Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers (one of my favorites) perished saving others from an aircraft fire, but quite a few lived. You should read the blog "Ask the Pilot" for more examples.

    The last time a US-flagged full-sized passenger jet fell out of the sky and killed all on board was in December 2001. That is a record unsurpassed since the beginning of aviation. No, I don't believe that my mentioning this fact has any influence on future events, and neither should you.

  2. Senescent Says:

    I think people would probably be surprised by the extent to which the railroad and interstate trucking systems have the internet-parallel logistics expertise and signaling systems necessary to keep things viable.

    You'd see a bunch of retired old white suspenders/cargo vest/beard guys called in to pull a lot of Apollo 13-style all-weekers, aand big disruption in international trade as capacity got shunted to domestic staples, but in the end probably more damage from amateurs trying to improvise than anything.

  3. Middle Seaman Says:

    The connect world consists of networks, computers, storage and people. A big wave can come and bury NY and NJ. No banks, no Wall Street and networks. Likelihood is low. This infrastructure is here to stay.

    And, stop insulting people older than 65. I have an Android phone, two tablets, a laptop and an ultrabook. My classes have no paper products. Exams are take home. Material is electronic. Complaints about grades – send me an email.

  4. VALIS Says:

    All predicted with ridiculous precision in 1909. Check out EM Forster's "The Machine Stops" – it'll blow your mind!
    http://archive.ncsa.illinois.edu/prajlich/forster.html

  5. geoff Says:

    I no longer fear getting the NSA's attention 'cause my 75 year old dad is a Linux enthusiast, and merely by sending him e-mails I'm apparently on their damn list. (I hear you Middle Seaman– old folks are not necessarily technophobes by any means.) So my fear is what if someone destroyed the internet? What if all the virtual (and it's pretty much all virtual) money in the world disappeared? What would happen? I take some comfort in realizing that life went on well before there was an internet, or hell, even electricity, but surely the transition would be painful. On the plus side, my long-anticipated nuclear war has yet to materialize.

  6. Xynzee Says:

    I don't think "Luddite" is the word you're looking for when talking about gold stocking, bunker dwellers.

    Being opposed to tech advances like self-service checkouts because it costs us our humanity is.

  7. Alex SL Says:

    The internet being broken by a terrorist is a rather unlikely scenario. But yes, our over-reliance on electronics is going to cost us dearly one day.

    On a smaller scale, I wonder how many people have already died somewhere in the bush because their electronic car key ran out of power and there was no mechanical way to open the fancy electronic car door. On the biggest scale, if something like this happens again, who knows what the results might be? It might just crash all airplanes, leave all ships directionless and collapse the world economy.

    But what can we do, individually? I want to participate in society; I have dependants who need to participate in society. And as you wrote, if something like that happens everybody will be equally screwed anyway except perhaps those who can grow a bit of their own food, and we cannot even afford a garden.

    No, if anything is to be done to make our way of living sustainable and accident-proof, it it would have to be a collective effort. And the problem with many of these things, as with democracy and market economy in general, is that everybody individually behaving rationally will still lead to society being insane.

  8. Major Kong Says:

    "The last time a US-flagged full-sized passenger jet fell out of the sky and killed all on board was in December 2001."

    Since I flew the Airbus A300 I'm familiar with that accident. They hit another jet's wake turbulence while on departure from JFK.

    The First Officer, who was flying, "walked the rudder" from full-stop to full-stop to full-stop (left-right-left). This is what American Airlines' training department (incorrectly) taught at the time.

    The rudder is only stressed to go full-stop in one direction. By slamming it back and forth the dynamic forces overstressed the (composite) vertical fin and it snapped off.

    The correct method in this case would have been to use the ailerons rather than the rudder to maintain control. In a heavy jet I don't even put my feet on the rudder pedals except for takeoff, landing or an engine-out situation.

  9. Sarah Says:

    What bothers me about the internet is that rather than being a great equalizer (and in many ways, it has been; ordinary people like you and me can post our private thoughts on any subject and have them read by anyone anywhere on the planet, as long as they have a computer), it has also done a lot to divide us socially and economically. The operative phrase in my parenthetical thought, there, is as long as they have a computer. If they don't have a computer, or, at least, a tablet, and the ability to connect smoothly to the internet, they're screwed–but less screwed if they are living someplace where internet access isn't necessary for day-to-day life. During the "net neutrality" debate (which apparently is still going on, and which you should support if you like being able to read blogs like this one), there was a discussion on a podcast which I listen to (and which I recommend, as well as the videos of C.G.P. Grey, which are on YouTube), there was an interesting point about whether internet access could be considered a human right. Lack of internet access would seem like a first-world problem unless you're the poor schmuck who needs it to find a job, or the elderly shut-in who no longer drives and has to have their necessities delivered. On the other hand, if a middle-aged someone like me suddenly lost internet access I'd just start shopping in person again. (That's my own access though; if the entire thing shut down I'd lose access to my money and I'd be screwed just like everyone else.)

  10. John Danley Says:

    The MacBook of Eli: Because the apocalypse must be streamlined.

  11. c u n d gulag Says:

    Just wait until the telecom's decide to start rationing internet usage, because the FCC seems to have given up on the idea of "Net Neutrality."

    We already the slowest internet speeds in a nation that's not a Banana Republic.

    It'll be like the old dial-up days.
    Only worse for us – and more profitable for the already profitable.

  12. Anubis Bard Says:

    I keep a "hurricane pantry" in the cellar with a few weeks worth of back stocked food, 40 gallons of water, plus a rain barrel for flushing the toilet. It's come in handy when the power is out for a week, or the streams are outside their banks. It will also be handy if there's a flu pandemic, a truckers' strike or if the internet stops visiting. It's not a long term solution for the decline and fall of our civilization, but I have a feeling that will drag on a bit. As for your more specific concern, predicting the future is a fool's game, but my inner curmudgeon says the internet is not going to go down in an apocalyptic flash – rather the people's version of it will gradually devolve into a cross between your supermarket circular and basic cable.

    For the long game I've taken up backyard beekeeping, just in case mead and rhubarb wine turn out to be the future New England currency. . .

  13. Misterben Says:

    If we lost all online banking records overnight, that might actually help me: I have way more debt than assets in digital form.

    But something tells me that if civilization crashed tomorrow, and we suddenly found ourselves rebuilding from nothing, the credit card companies would reveal that they've been keeping paper records all this time and they STILL want their damn payments.

  14. Major Kong Says:

    I'm stocking up on crossbows and hockey masks for our Mad Max future.

    I think "post-apocalyptic warlord" will look good on my resume.

  15. bb in GA Says:

    Don't forget that about 20% of adults still smoke cigarettes. Probably more here in GA. They do have a shelf life, but it is reasonably long if they are sealed up. Some significant percentage also smoke the laughin' tobacco. Both these items (MJ is problematic because of packaging) should be added to your whiskey-gasoline currency portfolio in SHTF planning.

    //bb

  16. Totoro Says:

    Here in California we have earthquakes, not hurricanes, but the preparations are similar. I've got water/clothes/food sitting outside the house for when the house falls down. BTW, with inflation so low, the downside of your favorite mattress is much less than it was back in the day. To (try to) ward off the inevitable, please see bpp.mit.edu for an independent track of inflation.

  17. democommie Says:

    "Complaints about grades – send me an email."

    May we see a copy of YOUR birth certificate? {;>)

    "I don't even put my feet on the rudder pedals except for takeoff, landing or an engine-out situation."

    That last one, that's just a "hypothetical", right, RIGHT!?

    You might appreciate this, Major. I knew a guy who was a crew chief on a C-47 (IIRC) in Vietnam, 68-70', in there somewhere. He said that they occasionally flew hops to Bangkok with guys going on R&R. I have no reason to disbelieve him, you might. In the event, he said that one day while they were cruising they lost the starboard engine, it just stopped, no fire, no drama to speak of*. He said one of the supercargo was pretty jumpy about the fact that the prop on his side wasn't turning like the other one. He looked out at the starboard engine and told the trooper,
    "Nothin' to worry about, the pilot does this shit all the time to save fuel.". He then went and checked with the pilot to see if there WAS an emergency.

    * There's a youtuber about flying the C-47, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxIFlncjWiE. It opens with the trainer telling the trainee how to fly on one engine.

  18. Dave Dell Says:

    Several thoughts come to mind. There was one of the "Die Hard" franchise movies a while back that had a "Fire Sale" scenario for a plot line. Fire Sale – Everything Must Go. Many SF stories I've read have made a case for lots of things to have in stock. Gasoline and gasoline stabilizer. Spices, salt, pepper, etc. were a good thing in Niven's "Lucifer's Hammer". Ammunition, of course for a combo weapon such as a 12 guage/30.06 over/under. Other ammo for trade. I even read a story once that had .22 bullets as the only recognized currency.

    Hand tools of all sorts. Lots of spare socks.

  19. Chet Manly Says:

    Bowden does a really good job of making the dangers understandable for non-technical readers, but his grind-the-internet to a halt scenarios are really only plausible if by plausible you mean technically not impossible.

    Also, there's a very strong mutually assured destruction deterrent to that kind of thing that Bowden mostly ignores. If a bad actor did manage to take down the internet, they will have taken away their own ability to project power in the process. Why would anyone fire a weapon that completely disarms them when it goes off? Particularly when they have thousands of other weapons to choose from that are nearly as scary, don't cause harm to themselves, and don't have any affect their ability to use more weapons in the future.

    Provided his goal was to actually inform rather than alarm, I felt he should have focused more on the kinds of local-scale disasters that are very, very possible rather than very unlikely global internet doomsday. The security community has been sounding alarms for at least 15 years about the insanely poor security for the SCADA networks that control our infrastructure and industrial systems, but there's been very little improvement and probably never will be. We can't even bother to pay for maintaining roads and bridges in this country so why would we pay to secure all the computers controlling dams? How are we going to add regulations to make sure fertilizer plants computers are secure when we can't even bother to make sure they're not built right next to schools and retirement communities?

    Several of my coworkers have worked as penetration testers (good-guy hackers who find security holes) and all of them have gained administrative control of most of the hospital networks they were hired to test. If you wanted terrorism on a budget, a talented hacker with nothing more than a laptop and funds for travel could go around shutting down hospital ICU equipment and be nearly impossible to catch. Nobody even thinks twice about a dude hanging around a hospital waiting room or hospital parking lot with a laptop.

  20. Major Kong Says:

    Note that I'm currently accepting applications for my post-apocalyptic army.

    Dark Queen – No charge. Please sent recent photo. Torture experience a plus.
    Legion of Doom Commander – $10,000
    Trusted Lieutenant – $1000
    Elite Guard – $500
    Cannon Fodder – $10

    Pillaging experience is a plus but not a requirement. On the job training can be provided.

    The post-apocalyptic army of doom is an equal opportunity employer.

  21. Nick Says:

    My apocalypse stockpile consists of booze, toilet paper, ammunition, and printed pornography. Gold hoarders don't have shit on me.

  22. bb in GA Says:

    @Chet M

    I think you have hit on one of the reasons that a 'bad actor' induced EMP hit on the US is a low probability event. The victims would not be able to see the 'Heroes' gloat and strut and the rest of the world (I suspect) would get precious little video of the destruction so that the 'Heroes' would be deprived of an impressive/terrifying tool to intimidate other Infidels into submission.

    //bb

  23. Jon Says:

    I'm always surprised to the extent that people think the internet is a singular device, and that it could stop working all at once at some point. It's a network of millions of independent networks.

    It's sort of like thinking the freeway might stop working. They're all interconnected and in order to get from Boston to San Diego a lot of them have to be in working order, but you couldn't really destroy them all at once without a lot of ordinance. And certainly not at the flick of a switch by a handful of people, nation-state backed or not.

  24. Whatver Says:

    Nah, fuck it. Not worried. If it comes down to Thunderdome, remember its all about trading skills. I can make fire, and I can make gunpowder, and if your aren't too much of an ass, I'm willing to help you out. And I think most people are like that, and the ones that aren't get beaten or eaten.

    Consider that we have had every incompetent chimp stupidity applied to our system of nuclear weapons in a series of clusterfuck accidents and dipshit mendacities, over a period of 70 years. And then consider the Soviets, who, basically it was fucking circus bears with nuclear power who practically intentionally fucked with the things in a drunken stupor, and still, with some exceptions, managed not to fuck everything up. We are either very, very lucky, or over concerned with the consequences.

    So, again, not worried.

  25. xynzee Says:

    "Ammunition, of course for a combo weapon such as a 12 guage/30.06 over/under. Other ammo for trade. I even read a story once that had .22 bullets as the only recognized currency."

    The interesting thing about this point is that in a way, the chances of getting shot would markedly decline. If bullets are the currency, you certainly would be loathe to waste it willy-nilly like that.

  26. anotherbozo Says:

    With network news selling fear every night (since fear sells, brings in viewers) and I persist in monitoring it while dining, I've developed a self-protective coating of fatalism. After all we have all these to worry about:

    death by asteroid
    Yellowstone finally erupts, blanketing the earth in killer ash
    a bomb in your subway car
    a heart attack or stroke
    your house burns down while you're somewhere else enjoying a concert
    getting hit by a stray police bullet

    It's true, a digital meltdown would accomplish the same thing, and the slow starvation that results may be the worst death. Do you think shared catastrophe will draw people together or further apart? Read Rebecca Solnit and take heart.

  27. John Doheny Says:

    In New Orleans, we've lived through this already. Initially, it's quite surprising how effectively things revert to the 17th century once the power goes out. Cel-phone towers? Forget it. Landlines worked for awhile, but the ensuing flooding took care of them. Oh, and no water, always swell in 95F heat.

    In the long run, one's sense of the permanency of "modern" civilization is utterly destroyed, never to come back. I know that shit is all an illusion. Do you?

  28. MS Says:

    > I think people would probably be surprised by the extent to which the railroad and interstate trucking systems have the internet-parallel logistics expertise and signaling systems necessary to keep things viable.

    In the not very far future, all longhaul trucking will be handled by computers, and thus will be vulnerable to the same problems the rest of the system might be. In 70 years, no one alive will know how to drive a big truck, nor will such trucks have driver's seats.

    I would also point out that computerized systems handle the world's container ships + loading + unloading + tracking. Aren't any longshoremen any more…

    The chances of our logistics network handing a major internet failure in a way that left most cities unstarving are, I think, very low, and getting lower by the day.

  29. Emerson Dameron Says:

    My only real solace is that the grid hasn't already been annihilated by a couple of bored script kiddies from 4Chan.

  30. Skipper Says:

    The likelihood of the whole Internet coming crashing down is very low. It was designed specifically to prevent such a scenario. Hence its distributed form.

    However, cyber attacks against individual government agencies, banks, securities boards, merchants, etc. is very real and is already happening on a scale that would send a chill down your spine — if anyone told you about it. While the whole Internet won't come crashing down, it's possible that your bank will — or the company that generates your paychecks. And if we've learned anything from the mortgage crisis with "robosigners" forging documents, it's that if the banks lose your loan docs, they'll just make shit up. If they lose your deposit docs, you're screwed.

    There are several problems with Internet security, including the fact that most system are very poorly protected. The "Kool Kids" who write code like to do the Kool stuff. However, testing, quality assurance, and security aren't Kool and they take a back seat, often coming at the end of the process and are poorly done.

    Recently, my online bank did a spiffy, graphically brilliant redesign. However, there was a serious flaw in the code. I detected it quickly and sent them a nice note. They replied, thanking me for bringing it to their attention, and assuring me that they had a "team working on it." That was two months ago. At the most, it would take one programmer about an hour, if that, to fix it. Not fixed.

    As far as stockpiling, that works well for the people who sell the shit, but it's probably just a waste of time and money. However, if you're one of those people who relies on takeout, fast food, of grabbing a bite on the way home from work, you may want to have enough food for a few days.

    Right now, the country has about a two-week supply of food in the pipeline. It wouldn't take much of a hiccup to empty store shelves. When that happens, you'll probably wish you were one of those "open carry" people. The same for gasoline. That supply could dry up in a couple of days. I lived through the gas shortages of the '70s. It was tense then. It's going to be a lot tenser now — when people feel free to simply kill other people for real and imagined slights.

    I will make an exception for stockpiling some money — not all of it. A few years back, some friends — who live in the northern climes — suffered an ice storm and were without power for close to two weeks. After a few days, some stores were able to open, operating by lantern and candlelight. However, my friends, like most people, had $30 to $50 in their pockets, and without electricity, ATMs and credit card machines wouldn't work. They highly recommended to us, based on their experience, to keep a chunk of money in the house to get you through a couple of weeks with no power.

    The cyber crime threats come from a lot of places. Some are even government sponsored. If some dictator can take down our major banks, that's better than dropping bombs on us. And if you think banks have rock-solid, ironclad security, you're sadly mistaken.

    If you want to read a chilling book by someone who is not a conspiracy theorist or a goldbug, try this: http://joelbrenner.com/america-the-vulnerable/

  31. Andrew Says:

    Couldn't you drive somewhere to where the ATM was working and get cash there? Assuming you keep a decent amount of fuel in your car.

  32. swkellogg Says:

    "I barely understand how the internet works."

    Perhaps I can shed some light on the topic.

    "It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes."

    You're welcome.

  33. Mike Says:

    > They are the power grid. They are air traffic control.

    Actually no. Neither of those things substantially depend on the internet. The parts that do can be relatively easily separated.

  34. afeman Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_over_Avian_Carriers

  35. blahedo Says:

    Skipper makes several of the points I was going to. The issue is not the internet _itself_ but the stuff we've built on top of it. Historically, the foundation of the internet was "let's build something that CAN NOT be taken out even under nuclear attack on multiple sites. That basic infrastructure and ability remains today: at the network layer, the internet still very effectively routes around damage. It is vanishingly unlikely that this will change as long as anyone anywhere has electricity to run things (which, while larger grids may go down and blackouts may be the order of the day, emergency power is reasonably likely to continue even in many nasty doomsday scenarios).

    The issue is that the applications that run on top of the internet have become increasingly centralised over the last fifteen years or so. In the mid-90s, email and the web both had that highly-distributed property that the network as a whole did; and even losing a few major cities would have only taken down certain sites, and everyone else would be more or less well-connected. But with central email servers (gmail, hotmail, yahoo) and central video servers (youtube, vimeo) and central social/chat servers (facebook) and storing things in "the cloud" (dropbox, icloud), there's a real possibility that a few very local outages could make the network accessible but unusable to huge swaths of the population—and the vulnerability is not just to "outages" proper, but also to rent-seeking and bad-faith policy changes.

  36. Scepticus Says:

    "Imagine everyone flipping out when they can't check Facebook! Ha ha. Indeed, people would lose their marbles to an amusing extent if the sites we use to kill time online disappeared."

    Clearly the entities with the greatest motive to achieve this are the television networks. They could get people to watch TV again by killing the competition and then reporting on the results of their efforts.

  37. Jeffrey Says:

    "blahedo Says: July 8th, 2014 at 1:33 pm
    Skipper makes several of the points I was going to."

    ". . . (which, while larger grids may go down and blackouts may be the order of the day, emergency power is reasonably likely to continue even in many nasty doomsday scenarios)."

    Care to elaborate? Except here in the PNW, I don't know of another region of the country that produces a sufficient amount of electricity locally. If the grids on the East Coast and the Midwest fail, as we saw a few years ago, there is no back-up. This is why (can I reveal this publicly? Are the ChiComs, Russkies and Taliban listening?) so many server farms are no located in the PNW. (Oh, that's right. Thanks to Google Maps, all these strategically sensitive sites are known to the world.)

    P.S.

    It would probably be okay if YouTube went black. I mean, how many versions of "Take On Me" and cute cat videos do we need uploaded?

  38. Carter Says:

    The internet is more redundant than you think. The various nodes in the system are all configured differently, running different software on different hardware, and doing different tasks. Partially compromising the system is possible, especially to spy on it, but actually hitting a big off switch all at once is unlikely.

    However what COULD happen is a giant solar flare. There hasn't been one big enough to do catastrophic damage in a long time, but in the 1850s there was a flare that torched most of the electronics then in operation, mostly telegraphs and industrial equipment. And that was big honkin' 1850s wires. The ten-nanometer-wide wiring of modern electronic circuits would be toast. Electronics everywhere, internet-connected or not, would fry. Cars wouldn't start, planes would fall out of the sky, pretty much anything that isn't military equipment designed to survive nuclear-war EMP bursts would stop working. We don't really know how common flares like that are, as we've only been monitoring for a couple hundred years and they don't leave much in the way of evidence for themselves.

  39. Skipper Says:

    @Andrew It all depends on a lot of different things. The first is that you have enough gas, as you note, but then the question is whether driving was allowed or even possible. If your bank's central computers are down, the ATMs are useless. If everyone has the same idea, you will be in a traffic jam beyond all belief and will probably run out of gas on the road. Also, in a situation like that, even functioning ATMs will run out of money quickly. You have to realize just how interconnected and fragile the system is.

    One thing you need to understand about systems is that as they become more and more complex, the question of failure is not "will they fail," but "when."

  40. Robert Says:

    Carter, I just read a book, "Megacatastrophes!" Massive solar flares were a chapter. All the previous times in human history that we've taken a star born EMP to the collective face, we didn't even notice.

    I have the consolation of knowing that without the prescription drugs, I probably won't live long enough to see my children starve or be enslaved. Makes me wonder what things were like in the aftermath of the Toba megavolcano eruptions – did the grandchildren of survivors grow up with stories about How Things Used to Be? That could explain some mythological tropes.

  41. sluggo Says:

    The internet is still shiny and new to the public.

    Eventually it will go the way of all infrastructure, and it will look like the I35 Bridge in Minneapolis.

  42. sluggo Says:

    @ Robert

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_storm_of_1859

  43. Csicopper Says:

    We're always threatening to do "in real life" stuff when we don't get our way on line. Here would be our chance.

    From my reading here, it seems that the biggest PITA stuff along the net would be taking the biggest hits. Surely not all bad.

    It'd be a bitch dealing with ebay though.

  44. Major Kong Says:

    They are the power grid. They are air traffic control.

    Our air traffic control system is so archaic it might actually still work.

  45. vegymper Says:

    It's interesting to think about the issue of complexity increase bringing MORE and not LESS stability. In Biology, the complexity increase that was generated by the evolution of a central nervous system mastering a chemical hormonal regulation scheme and a web of nervous wiring helped all kinds of beasts to explore new echological niches and survive/reproduce better. Of course, many organs in the process "lost" their relative independence, to become parts of the bigger whole. My question is not if the Internet will break down, but when are we going to be absorbed into It… (and maybe it already has happened and we still manage to believe we're independent critters?)

  46. Alex SL Says:

    To all those who point out the redundant and distributed structure of the internet, I think you are missing the point. The problem is our general and increasing over-reliance on electronics for everything combined with the even faint possibility of another Solar Storm of 1859 type event. Because (a) something like that might potentially wipe out everything from research data to every airplane's controls to the entire global financial infrastructure and (b) that event would be fairly benign if not for our over-reliance on electronics.

    It is also besides the point to argue that we need to worry about many other things such as heart attacks because that type of risk has always existed and always will.

  47. N__B Says:

    Note that I'm currently accepting applications for my post-apocalyptic army.

    Do you have a spot for an insane geek who's good at making things? I can double as comic relief during the lulls between action scenes, even though that means that theater-goers with weak bladders never get to see my full range.

  48. Mike R Says:

    Major Kong, this is an inquiry about a position as canon fodder. Since my resume includes some experience in that field as a marine in 66-69, and age doesn't really preclude one from being a bullet sponge, would I be eligible for 15 dollars?

  49. democommie Says:

    Well, nothing so spectacular as a solar flare, Chicomsovputinesque hacking or Megaquake did it,,,but.

    At approximately 6:00PM on Monday, July 7, 2014, a short but violent windstorm knocked out power to about 200 homes in my neighborhood. The damage was done by a large tree that came down on a utility pole, snapping it off about 6' above the sidewalk, and that pole was then left hanging on the still attached 13 or 26Kv lines and causing two other poles to lean WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY out of vertical. Lots of snapped single phase leaders to the houses nearby and due to a widespread state of emergency south of us, from the same storm, no help until this morning. Once they cut through all of the dead stuff and restrung the lines, we're back up.

    I had people tell me that it must be problematic not being able to cook or take a shower. I tell them I lived in the house for over two years with ONE cold water feed and no functional bathroom. So, three days? an inconvenience.

  50. Fred Says:

    What would happen if the internets crashed?

    I think there would be a financial panic and that would be bad. There would be lots of troubles like people dying from failing life supports in hospitals and of course lots of plane crashes, etc. After that everybody would figure out how to reorganize and in a few months it would become the new normal.

    The pre-digital revolution world was in many ways more functional and stable than things are today. Notice that extreme wealth concentration really took off with the proliferation of the internet.

    It is also interesting that things like turntables and tube amplifiers are making a comeback. How long before analog photo film will reemerge.

    I personally have a great graphics camera/enlarger sitting in my darkroom that does far superior work than any scanner/printer combo. Trouble is nobody makes film or chemistry anymore.

    So if the system crashed there is a Luddite in my heart that would dance a little caper while the realist in my brain would making the "Home Alone" kid's face and saying "Oh Shit!"