Last night, The Offspring and I faced an evening of utter misery – no emails, no WordPress, no jigsaw puzzles and no GAMING! -wail-
We did have our Kindles, and we did have the TV, but as the ratings season has not begun yet, there was nothing on the TV worth watching. I suspect we would not have watched it even if there had been because the internet eclipsed the TV long ago, at least for us. We only have five main TV channels so the degree of choice is fairly low. By contrast, the internet has literally everything.
As a teacher, I’ve long known that ageing Boomers would benefit from the freedom and connectedness the internet provides, but even I was surprised by how pervasive it has become in my own life. It entertains me whenever I want or need to be entertained, it connects me to friends all over the world, and it’s also there when I’m working. Need to check a fact? Just Google it. Need to find a half-remembered quote? Google it. Need a smart sounding saying in Latin? Google it. Need to find out how to do something? You guessed it, Google again.
But Google would be nothing without all the information it searches.
And right there is the true power of the internet. It’s like an ever expanding, shapeless repository of knowledge that is being added to and tweaked every moment of every day by someone somewhere around the world.
This giant amoeba of knowledge is not organized as neatly as a Wiki, and you have to know how to phrase your question to find the answer you need, but it’s all there, 24/7, 364 days of the year.
Except when it’s not.
Having learned to take all this knowledge for granted, what would we do if it were suddenly taken away, from everyone? And no, this is not the beginning of a new science fiction story, although it would make a good one. I am genuinely concerned.
Why? Because I know that only a tiny fraction of all that information and knowledge is ‘backed up’ in physical media such as print books, tape backup, DVDs, you name it. That means only a tiny fraction of our combined, human knowledge would be available to us if the internet went down permanently. Worse, what knowledge we still had would be proprietary, and jealously guarded by those that ‘owned’ it.
Now I know that ‘owning’ knowledge is nothing new, we’re living with the consequences of patenting information every day. But can you imagine how much worse things would be if all the other knowledge in the world were no longer shared either?
As a species, homo sapiens has progressed fastest when knowledge was shared, freely and without favour – think of the explosion of creativity that occurred during the Renaissance. If we lost the internet we could easily lose much of what we have gained over the last two hundred odd years, going from the age of enlightenment to a modern dark age, virtually overnight. And then we’d fight wars over what was left.
Of all the infrastructure the world can no longer do without, I’d put the internet at the top of the list of things to guard with our lives. What do you think? Am I being realistic or have I simply not had enough caffeine yet this morning?