Imagine a world without the Internet

July 8, 2014

Unless you live in a land far, far away, under a rock, with your eyes and ears tied behind your back, you have at least heard of the Internet. It has filled a gap in modern life that, when you look back before the 1990s, seems glaringly vacant.

 

Just think of all the fashion trends that could have been avoided had Skype been around to discourage you from that pumpkin orange, front-creased, skin-tight, rib-high, bell-bottomed nylon pants with long-sleeved, vertically-striped orange, extended collar, button-down shirt.

 

(Then again, someone at McCall’s thought a shirt of crocheted potholders was a good idea, and we did have mirrors back in the ’70s. Or at least most of us did.)

 

 

The Internet has become such a part of our lives, we rarely think about the world before this globally aware metal brain and its galvanizing, yet destructive, potential.

 

Peel back the years to the early 19th century. Many of our modern advantages did not exist, and those that did were not widely available. Railroad, mining, and factory work were physically taxing and dangerous. Education wasn’t required yet; many children worked in the mines and factories. Only about half the population could read.

 

You did not hop on your laptop and instantly check out the latest kayak routes, share one on your Facebook page, and like the one you planned to hit that weekend.

 

You did not watch a movie on Netflix, talk to your Aunt Peggy in Seattle, or sit down to simultaneously write your memoir, file your taxes, and put together a presentation for your upcoming work conference.

 

Of course, today, you might not have to give that presentation in person. The Internet has dramatically increased telecommuting, e-commerce, and—what looked like a gag on The Jetsons—videoconferencing.

 

An Internet business presence has become more important than a physical street address. Brick-and-mortar stores have found themselves becoming showrooms for products that customers will browse—and then go buy cheaper from an online competitor.

 

The Internet has eased investment and market entry. It’s also automated sectors of economy and enabled moving manufacturing to cheaper locations overseas.

 

Financial transactions are instantaneous, but a single piece of malicious code can now be used to rob millions far better than a gun.

 

Or take a trip back to yester-decade and watch a few episodes of M*A*S*H. Had any of the medicos in the 4077th had email and vid-chat, they might have realized the war they were in lasted eight years less than the run of the show.

 

In real life, the military created the building blocks of the Internet. During the decade between the real Korean War and the TV sitcom about it, the Department of Defense built ARPANET—the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.

 

ARPANET connected university and military computers, allowing users to access any other computer within the network, which is the same basic technology we use today.

 

Wars have always been based on information. Wars are won by attacking the enemy’s command and control systems. In that sense, digital technology has been a great advantage. Because of the decentralized nature of the Internet, even if part of the system is destroyed, the other parts can continue functioning.

 

However, this same characteristic makes the system vulnerable to hacking—you, Amazon.com, and the Defense Department are all connecting to the same Internet, creating the possibility of digital espionage and the emerging field of cyber-security.

 

For years, the Pentagon refused to allow soldiers to access social networking sites, but eventually found that the detachment from civilian life was lowering morale. Now, those on active-duty can communicate in real time with their loved ones back home. No more writing letters from the front line, and meeting the baby born shortly after your deployment at their second birthday.

 

The Internet has increased government surveillance and censorship, conveniently gathering data in one location to be scraped up by intelligence agencies, as in the US, the UK, and Australia; suppressed by gaining control of access portals, as in North Korea and Cuba; or both, as in China and Iran. (While the US doesn’t engage in government filtering, we actually rank high in Internet censorship due to widespread use of filtering software and restrictive Terms of Service on popular websites.)

 

Meanwhile, the Internet offers a relatively easy and low-cost means to organize politically. Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring were both born online. Wikileaks and similar types of user-generated content have made government more transparent. Tools of citizen movements, like fundraising and open publishing, are facilitated easily online. No serious candidate for public office can forego campaigning via social media.

 

Consider where you were 25 years ago. If you were not born yet, you are going to have to use what we old folks call “imagination;” it’s what we had before Google.

 

Sure, we lacked a certain level of connectivity, but we possessed a spirit of adventure. If we wore horrible clothes we didn’t know any better! We were happy!

 

Now, if something interesting happens, at least one person in your circle will compare it to a similar event they already saw on Youtube, and then describe that event as if it makes this current one so much less fascinating. With knowledge comes sorrow.

 

Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.

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