Speculations on a probable future destruction of the internet
Kenitra, Internet after all is not without enemies…
The Internet has become the Archimedean point in our daily life. Almost nothing gets done without it nowadays. The more we rely on it, the more it seems impossible to live without it. It is undoubtedly the most reliable machine Man has ever made. However, could this blind dependence of ours in itself be a threat to mankind? Are we investing too much in this new medium that we are risking to lose too much if we ever were to live without it?
Why is the Internet so successful? How does it invade all aspects of life? The Internet, as a matter of fact, is the only manmade machine that has an organic structure. The way everything is wired up is unbelievably complex. Seeing that it has this organic structure, it seems to fit the properties of vitalism perfectly, and all aspects of human daily life. It fits the structure of society and how people connect to each other.
Life spreads by networking. The body itself is an information processor. Memory resides not just in brains but in every cell. No wonder genetics bloomed along with information theory. Gleick (2011:07)
Every newly added part, be it a computer or a smartphone for example, fits perfectly within the larger whole of the global network without disrupting the function of the rest of its parts, just like organic living cells. This is because “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (Aristotle 384-22 BC). Besides, the Internet could also be seen as a virtual reduplication of society and reality as a whole. Therefore, it enjoys social compatibility. The Internet is capable of acquiring new intelligences, which is an aspect of the human brain. There is always room for improvement, but if its success is not due to its organic structure, then maybe it is due to the fact that Internet is an efficient tool that circulates, measures, organizes and processes information, boosting human knowledge. Thus, the Internet is unique for its potential to store and easily access human knowledge and above all, its promise for the ideal democracy.
Could this huge machine we call the Internet be something ephemeral in human history? Is it possible that somehow it may not be around in the near future? Most people go about their daily lives as if Internet has always been here and always will be. However, its success and mere presence are not proof of its permanence. It would be unwise to think it will always be around. Actually, we have no guarantee that it will. It is evident that it is so reliable but yet at the same time it is so vulnerable. Its destruction is a legitimate probability although there isn’t much fuss about it.
Thanks to its omnipresence, the Internet has redefined the concept of power. On one hand it has empowered the people; structured them and unified their voices. Power is no longer strictly identified by missiles and bullets, but rather by ideas and people. On the other hand, the Internet has also empowered governments. It has enabled them with new ways of censoring, controlling, and manipulating people. This makes the thousands-years-long strife between governments and citizens even more intense.
…this has obviously empowered individuals in a broad and complex set of ways, but as our lives become more and more dependent on the internet, it has also provided governments with a single point of contact for nearly ubiquitous surveillance. Kevin Drum (2013)
The Internet plays in favor of both parties. This can make the suppressed and overpowered party, be it the citizen or government, target the very same weapon with which the one in power exerts power. Using Egypt as an example, it is almost unthinkable to picture the Egyptian uprising without social networking. When the government awoke to the danger of the people protesting, they immediately shut down the Internet and cellphone services as a form of resistance on January 28th 2011, OECD (2013:36).
In contrast, a worldwide rage among citizens of some countries is growing over the fact that their governments are trying to sensor the Internet. Consequently, movements and organizations such as Anonymous and Wikileaks have emerged and threatened many governments as well as Internet security. The possibilities are endless to what the masses can do when they are upset, as history has shown.
It would, perhaps, be shocking for citizens of respected democratic states to discover that foreign forces were influencing their lives in small but meaningful ways. It’s a universal issue and one that is highly controversial by its nature and though its sheer audacity. Bilal Khalid (2012)
In the two given examples above, it is shown how governments and citizens alike can constitute a threat to Internet stability. It seems it is the Internet that is primarily targeted whenever one party reacts. This sort of struggle between governments and the people is not ending anytime soon, and it can, and may, have huge repercussion with the presence of the Internet in the near future if things escalated. Now, with that being said, and since globalization is pushing us towards a single one-world government, let us apply this small incident of Egypt on a larger scale. What would happen if all citizens were at odds with the governments over power?
Similarly, what if the Internet granted citizens unconditional freedom that would threaten the firm grasp governments have over their people? Wouldn’t the Internet be susceptible of being the cost of this struggle for control? Wouldn’t it be, and maybe it is, the battlefield that is at the risk of its own destruction? Weapons by nature inherently bear the seeds of their own destruction, and the Internet is being used as a weapon– a very vulnerable one. No one would care about the survival of the Internet as long as its survival intervenes with one’s own interests. Internet after all is not without enemies. The more technology advances, the more we meet those longing for antiquity and the medieval life when things used to be simple. Ultimately, if the Internet were really to be destructed, it would be destructed not despite of, but because of its success.
If the threat does not come from amongst ourselves, it can very well come from the outside. While browsing the Internet we don’t worry about what’s happening in the center of our galaxy or on the surface of the sun. Getting used to seeing the sun rises every morning at a precise and predictable time makes us forget that the earth is actually floating in a violent and brutal universe filled with random comets and asteroids. Space Weather, for example, can have great impact on the global communication system, which could potentially put the entire global connectivity at the mercy of space. Not long ago in 1998, several satellites blacked out simultaneously because of a sun flare and many services went down instantly such as web pages and TV channels. Add to that, 12 satellites so far have been lost because of space weather, ESA (2004:05).
We are affected by the sun’s mood whether we like it or not. We can be subject to a future massive solar flare just like we are subject to the sun’s rays. The most gigantic one, known as the Carrington Flare, took place in 1859. It crippled the telegraphic communication all across North America and Europe. Computer engineers and space physicists are well aware of what a solar flare the size of Carrington would do to today’s extremely vulnerable communication infrastructure.
A major solar event could theoretically melt down the whole Internet. What earthquakes, bombs, and terrorism cannot do might be accomplished in moments by a solar corona. Eagleman (2012)
Electromagnetic storms are very common too. Quebec’s power went down in 1989 for 9 hours because of one — affecting 6 million people’s lives. The cause of this geomagnetic storm was a Coronal Mass Ejection from the sun that took place on March 9th, 1989 and did not reach earth until 4 days after. From the micro perspective, IBM estimates that there is a new software error every month in every 256 MB of computer RAM caused by cosmic rays (Ziegler and Lanford, 1979:19-40, Tom 2008) despite the earth’s magnetic shield. These cosmic rays are unstoppable charged particles with high energies originating from the depth of space or the center of the Milky Way.
Now with the increase of chips miniaturization (Moore’s law), errors are expected to increase (Tom, 2008) since electronic components will increasingly be affected by cosmic rays. Let alone the worst-case scenario if the flux of cosmic rays increased. This confirms the weak spot communication technologies have vis-à-vis outer space. The earth magnetic field, which serves as a shield that protects the earth from violent solar flares, has been weakened the past decade. This is because the earth, as some scientists believe, is at the verge of a probable pole magnetic reversal (Wicherink, 2008:150), which is not an unprecedented event in the long history of earth. Thus, the current weak magnetic field and the vulnerability of our global communication infrastructure put the Internet at a greater risk of disappearing. On-going events of space weather can be predicted but only a few days ahead, and there isn’t much we can about them.
The Internet can be damaged in different ways. If the damage is not physical it could be virtual. Cyber-warfare and cyber-terrorism aren’t fictional concepts but real ones. Because the Internet will own every bit, and because every datum is connected to one single organism, the whole thing is at the risk of disappearing in bulk and at once. One single virus might have the potential of damaging every bit connected to the gigantic web.
We are living in a digital age in which any new piece of information is primarily poured into the internet, if not born in it already, before being committed to paper. In that sense, Internet is not a bunch of wires and servers connecting people, but there is more to it than just that. The Internet has become humanity’s huge database that hosts human knowledge. It follows that whatever harms the Internet would inevitably lead to the loss of human knowledge.
Ironically, one important consequence of the shift to digital publishing is that it leads to a potential loss of knowledge. Curt Rice (2013).
Such a horrible event is not unprecedented in human history. Civilizations, such as the antediluvian civilizations, lost a massive wealth of knowledge in the remote prehistory (Bauval and Graham, 1996). Even more recently, a similar event took place in Alexandria with the destruction of the Royal Library of Alexandria (391 AD), which was the hub of knowledge in the ancient world.
The Internet has proved to be efficient in processing and storing human knowledge, yet it hasn’t proved to be stable, permanent, or sustainable. The only reasonable way to store human knowledge is to diversify the means of storage, which is not something being seriously taken into consideration. Gathering and centralizing human knowledge into the-binary-system medium isn’t a cleaver idea. With all due respect to Claude Shannon, a backup storage with a medium of a different nature should be going in parallel; books for example.
Why are we in a state of heedlessness about the probability that the Internet may not be around in the future? Is it because we never contemplate the idea of a world without Internet although it always used to be the case? When asked the question: “What is life to you without internet?” some people responded: Life then would be “without colors,” “very slow,” “tasteless,” “lifeless,” or “I would feel locked up in a cell.” According to these sorts of reactions, which may be the case for the majority, life seems nihilistic without Internet. Is it possible that the Internet has given new meaning to life? Probably, because it seems as if the Internet has shifted from being ‘a means’ to being ‘an end’ in itself, and the slogan nowadays has become, “I am on-line therefore I am”. It seems we are putting our entire human worth and essence into a lifeless machine. Freezing all that is vital in us into ‘…01001010110…’
The Internet has empowered people; it has empowered nations, bridged gaps and brought the world together. However it is now being used to tear the world apart. Bilal Khalid (2012)
All in all, what does this change? What sort of attitude should we adopt if we were to approach Internet as something temporary in our life in particular, and in human history in general?
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