Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Digipocalypse Now: The Odds of an Online Semi-Extinction



It seems like forever ago that the History Channel started airing those masterfully edited docu-scare-tactic programs about the Mayan Apocalypse, and before that we were force-fed Y2K mush.

SHOCKER: both didn't happen. We know the media loves to capitalize on all the fear juice they unapologetically squeeze from the masses, but that doesn't mean there isn't some diluted truth behind all the hullabaloo.

As disturbingly cool as some of us would find a "Walking Dead"-esque scenario, our true undoing will probably be a lot less violent and more subtle, and the people who come out ahead aren't the ones who can shoot a cross-bow with the most accuracy. The winners will be the ones who took the time to learn about the vulnerabilities in our current framework, and know how to avoid falling victim to them.

All-Hell Breaking Loose

Because the Internet is almost entirely decentralized, most of us have come to treat it like it's a staple, invulnerable part of our daily life, but it's not. In 2009 when Gmail experienced a brief outage, half the world was up in arms, acting like the sky was falling, and that's just one site!

The Internet is actually connected from continent to continent by a handful of trans-oceanic cables that are only about as wide as your thumb, and they are thousands of miles long. If one or more of these were damaged in any way, major populations would be be offline and large portions of the global economy would come to a screeching halt...not to mention all the information and data left in "The Cloud." We'd be like digital sitting ducks for the looters who are still online.

It All Hangs on a Wire, Literally

In 2008, Telegeography reported that many communications between Europe and the Middle East had been cut or downsized dramatically when a simple anchor cut the Internet cable (called SeaMeWe-4) that connected 15 different telecommunications companies. In an instant, jobs were lost, business went undone, and teenagers no longer had access to social media.

This could happen again anytime, by anchor, coral, or narwhal, and unless you happen to work as a cobbler or a haberdasher in an Amish town, odds are you use the Internet for work and for your personal life. Identity protection software is an essential piece of the Internet-using pie in this scenario, as you'd lose the ability to track "yourself." You'd never know whether you just maxed out your credit card on a yacht you can't afford for a guy named Yousef in Kiev. Using an external hard drive for back-up is another must. You might not be able to carry on with your business as usual, but at least it won't be lost in the cloud.

Survival Skills, But Not the Kind Your Thinking Of

The cave-man-like hunters and grunters won't be the ones leading the Internet-outage pack, it'll be the people who have landlines and remember how to use phone books. In the real apocalypse, patience and attention to detail will be much more valuable skills than brute force and primal instincts.

Would you remember how to get to your great-aunt Edna's farm without GPS? When is the last time you used a paper map to locate anything or planned and executed an important get-togther, party or meeting without text messages or a Facebook event page? We rely on our cyber protection for smartphones, tablets and laptops like they're bionic-limb-extensions of ourselves, which makes a digipocalypse all the scarier, and more likely. While others are stock piling food and re-enforcing their panic rooms, be the lone, wise wolf who uses an hard-cover encyclopedia the next time they want to look up "how to purify water with iodine," and you'll have 'em all beat.

Paul Burns

Paul believes that it's possible to be smart and funny at the same time, and proves it by being the first accountant/comedian, that he knows of, anyway.

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