Ever wondered what it would take for civilization to end? You are not alone. There’s a curious streak of existentialism inherent to all of us, which extends across questions of not only the individual, but that of the species as a collective. And of course, one often questions the concept of a “civilized society” as a tangible reality – how long can order be maintained before being consumed by the chaotic forces of disorder? It is this latter question which interests us the most. For if there’s a planet-wide cataclysmic geological event wiping us all out, then there won’t be witnesses after the fact – there won’t be a future to imagine or post-apocalyptic fiction to be riveted by. So, assuming humans survive reasonably well, what would it take for our modern way of life to be thrown sharply into reverse-gear by some disruptive calamitous event?
So what are you thinking? Planet-wide E.M.P. taking all electrical and electronic systems out of service for good, with no short-term chances of recovery or rebooting? Yes. That would be terrifying – humans will somehow survive but modern civilization will be obliterated at one fell swoop. However, that’s not by any means the simplest thing that can run civilization askew. Let’s try to imagine the least-potency event, which has enough bang-in-the-buck to still whoop our asses.
What’s that? The electricity’s working, so is Shortwave Radio and the old Phone-Lines (P.O.T.S.). But The Internet‘s Down! It’s screeched to a dead-end halt. The global network of fiber-optic cables snaking across ocean-floors, sea-beds and land-masses, coming to a complete abrupt full-stop – the capacity for transmitting, encoding and decoding trillions of gigabytes of data still there, but disabled and rendered utterly unusable. And damn! It stays that way for weeks, months and years! For what’s at stake with the Internet is not just inane ramblings on Facebook, or celebrity rants on Twitter or cute cat videos on YouTube. Let’s take a look at the decimation of elaborate labyrinth of underlying structures humans have erected and maintained via the Internet, which serve as the bedrock foundation of the fluid, globalized world:
- The International Banking Systems – Collapsed. Folded. Gone. Poof! No more Accounting of who owes what to whom, who owns what in whose name, who needs to be credited or debited what amount, who needs to be paid interest for what loan, Fixed Deposit, etc.
- A Severe Deflationary Shock, A Cataclysmic Liquidity Crunch and Reversion to Barter: You would be mighty pleased to know that the paper/coin currency that circulates through the system is only 1-2% of the underlying monetary base. Meaning 98-99% of it is virtual, all gone in a jiffy. No more 0’s and 1’s in your bank-account making you the proud owner of a reserve of fluid liquidity which you can exchange for tangible real-life goods – much less money available for chasing a large number of goods in supply. So what then? How do we maintain the granularity and fluidity of transactions? Oh well, we don’t. It all comes down like a pack of cards judiciously constructed over hours, which collapses in seconds. So we might revert to Barter. People might start hoarding money – suddenly paper currency has exponential value! Everyone’s thirsting for some liquidity – not of the watery kind, but of the shiny Golden kind.
- Eventually, even the Utility companies and Critical Workers would need some way of getting “paid” for their services. But hey, with the Internet gone, the fluid nature of appropriation of salaries, budgets and automated paychecks is all gone. Things are slow and sludgy – everything hand-written in a ledger. So expect general disintegration/deterioration of even basic services. Hey, when there’s no way to allocate capital through a liquid and fluid way – Humans wouldn’t allocate, for we are selfish and we want our dues! 😛
- Sudden Martial Law and/or extensive curtailing of civil and economic liberties by Governments. Expect lots of rationing and expect to live under a rule which doesn’t tolerate dissent and clamps down hard to preserve some semblance of order – what with a large unemployed mass of people in the middle of a socio-economic and technological shock – leading to social and/or anarchic uprisings. Government Authoritarianism in this case would be absolutely necessary – a necessary evil.
- The upshot is of course we all go back to pre-1950’s world and the transaction-rich fluidity of this modern internet world would be a thing of the past. Standards of living will also be commensurate to the paucity of capital for allocation to enterprises. But hey humans will get by with some stumbling along. On the bright side – the crumbling of our frenzy of activity will cool off this planet and perhaps preserve it better for future generations of Humans! 😛
Should the Internet go down in flames for more than a few days, we will have global disruptions of the kind that perturbs civilization into pandemonium – one that will leave society unable to account, transact, trade and/or move people, goods and services around. It will wipe out our ability to co-operate in fluid, crisp ways, disabling liquidity in capital allocation, pushing us to the brink of turbulent anarchy and the evil but necessary curtailment of liberties for maintaining order.
So should you be worried about the Zombie Apocalypse despite all hype? Naah. And neither is the Internet’s sudden demise more than a ridiculously improbable event (the powers that be shall keep the Internet a well-oiled engine!). That said, given the current generation’s addiction to Social Networking and the Virtual World, it’s safe to say yes we are raising an army of Youthful Zombies – Mind Zombies, if not quite the Flesh-eating kinds. So yes, the future for a world run amok by Mindless Zombies is no more a stark possibility, it’s coming true! 😉