All of this talk about reworking the Internet and IPv6 has me thinking: has the Internet become as important as water? Some would surely say that I'm off my rocker on this one and say that, of course water is more important than the Internet. And while I agree that without water we can't survive, and without the Internet we can, this is not meant to be a discussion on biology. The truth of the matter is that we, as a world, have become so reliant on the Internet that it's quickly becoming just as important as water.
First off, let me address the most obvious argument you may make with my rationale: "well, when I was living through the sixties and seventies, I survived without the Internet." I know you did and I commend you on living so long, but I think you're missing the point. Too often, this argument comes back to the biology of water and the 'Net, but it should come back to the current culture.
Forty years ago, the Internet was a pie-in-the-sky idea that most believed would never happen. Further, no one could have imagined where the Internet has taken us, and some are still left wondering where it can go. You were able to survive without the Internet forty years ago because the entire world didn't rely on it. Consider this: telephones weren't running over broadband forty years ago, businesses weren't cropping up online, and the constant flow and source of information that the Internet has provided didn't even come into play in the business world. Simply put, we were a society with no worldly understanding and reliance only on pen and paper. The society of forty years past is not the society of today.
When the Internet first made its appearance as Arpanet in 1969, few people could have imagined what it has become. No one could have guessed that it would permeate every level of every society in the world. As Thomas Friedman explained so eloquently, "the world is flat."
Now, let's imagine a world without the Internet. Surely some would say the youth would go back to reading books and print media would finally make the long-awaited comeback. Still others would say that the death of the Internet would increase our security, add physical activity back into our lives, make the US public lose weight and put an end to online criminal enterprises. I understand that argument, but I think it's entirely wrong.
Within minutes of the Internet's death, the stock market would crash (if it was still standing, given its reliance on the Internet). Every online public company like Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon and the rest would immediately be sold off and millions of people would lose their retirement and college planning money. Billions of dollars would fall out of the US and world economy in a matter of minutes. Once all online companies were rendered completely inert, the wave would move to technology firms that provide services related to the Internet. In other words, Microsoft would go under and Steve Jobs would need to find himself a new job. Millions more would lose billions of dollars in what would amount to the worst financial crisis in the history of the world.
Once businesses failed, people would lose their jobs and a steep rise in poverty would begin all over the world. And, as we all know, a rise in poverty would precipitate a significant increase in crime, which would make us all wish for the days of spam, spyware and viruses.
Schools, which have moved towards the Internet as a viable learning tool would need to rethink the curriculum and effectively teach children (who grew up with the Internet) an entirely new way of learning. Surely this wouldn't be easy, but it could be one of the easiest transitions to make.
The biggest impact would be in the business sector. Companies that were still able to survive after the great stock market crash would need to rethink business strategies, and more importantly, business processes. With well over 90 percent of companies relying on the Internet in some way or another, books would quickly become the new Internet for research and litigation purposes. Accounting and law firms that have subscribed to online research databases would need to buy new books for changed laws, but the firms shouldn't do it too early, because the government will need to step in and amend laws related to the Internet.
In a matter of minutes, communication will be reduced to word of mouth. In a world where people were growing more accustomed to email, they will now need to go back to the telephone to communicate, which, of course, is an issue because land lines currently run in the same way Skype and other VOiP services do -- over the Internet.
Rest assured, panic will most certainly set in. Most government works and those processes that we take for granted will be eliminated because most of their reliance on communication over a network that -- believe it or not -- runs on a protected area of the Internet.
Online orders of merchandise and food would need to stop, so companies with streamlined arrangements will need to go back to phone calls and telegrams, which will slow down the delivery of essentials, thus creating even more panic. The airline industry, practically crippled already, will most certainly meet its demise when people can no longer afford to travel, which would precipitate a death blow to Boeing and other large aircraft manufacturers.
In just a few days, all online companies will need to close and the Dollar, Euro and every other currency will carry no value.
In a word, our world would be chaotic.
Sad as it is, the possibility of an all-out closure of the Internet is entirely possible. And to make matters worse, the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team -- the government arm in charge of protecting the Internet -- receives (on average) about 0.2 percent of the annual Department of Homeland Security budget. So far, it hasn't failed us, but at what point will that small sum of money come back to bite us? You never know, it could happen.
In closing, I'm not here to make the argument that the Internet is as important as water -- to me, they're two entirely different things. That said, I will say that the Internet, save for the whole biology aspect, is almost as important to our survival as water. Without water, we die. Without the Internet itself, we can survive. But if we lose the Internet and live through the precipitating effects outlined above, no one can say that the harmful effects of it's loss are any less significant than the possibility of losing water.
Every Thursday, Don picks a current-events topic and discusses how it will impact us in the future. Check out more from Don's Future Implications series.