In the last month or so I’ve been a little more active on FaceBook, joined Twitter, continued with occasional entries on by blog, and posted a number of photos on my SmugMug account. This is in addition to my other on-line presence; contributing to a few forums, reading other blogs, and in general staying involved with my areas of interest.
Really, the Internet is a wonderful place for social interaction requiring little-to-no personal charm. It is impervious to serious deficits in good looks, and it’s immune to one’s inability to communicate in a clear and concise way, or being able to form a cogent argument. Perfect, in other words, to cater to my hot-headed, argumentative, holier-than-thou Italian temperament. Were it not for the Internet, my social life would be… well, it would not be.
I would instead read lots of books, listen to lots of music, take lots of pictures, write things no one would ever see, and in general spend a quiet life with my ever suffering, wonderful, and amazing wife. In fact, I can still remember a time when that was the bulk of my life. “Those were the good old days!” I hear myself say.
But I don’t mean it. I like having the world at my fingertips. I like being able to plop in front of my 30 inch screen and reach out onto the known world as I watch snow swirl outside. In another month or so the quiet hum of the furnace will give way to the hum of the hummingbirds outside my window. In that time I will likely have “met” a few more people around the world, will have contributed unread and unasked-for opinions to a number of sites, and I will have lived another month with the illusion of being a part of “something”; a virtual something, but something just the same.
What will I, and many others, do when it all ends suddenly? — what? End?!? SUDDENLY?!?
Yep; read them and weep, buckaroo! That’s right; massive solar flares. There is a chance the sun has been spending the last ten years or so holding it all in, winding itself up for a potentially spectacular and destructive show.
OK, I’m not saying it’ll happen soon. We don’t know when it will happen. But you will know when it does happen. There’s a good chance your appliances will be fried, your cell phone will stop working, the power will go out, the cable will be out, and gasp the Internet will go down.
That’s because most of the infrastructure will be fried. The good news? It can all be replaced. The bad news? We have an infrastructure that was built piecemeal. From satellites, to transformers, to cellular towers, to millions of miles of wires, to various internet hubs and switching stations; the entire infrastructure that powers our communication-intensive world is the product of a gradual buildup over a number of years. If we had to mount a massive rebuilding effort, how long would it take to entirely replace even 50% of it? What about 75% or more?
Depending on how much is destroyed, we are looking at a long time without what we casually now take for granted. It would be hard to get gas, get money, cook, preserve food, or even getting food to high population areas.
The mind shudders contemplating the consequences of such an event. But all that pales in comparison to the most dreaded thing of all. Pree-teens, teens, and young adults would have to go without e-mail, without texting, without IMs… without Twitter!!! And should they seek comfort in front of the TV, looking to catch the latest American Idol… BAAAMM! … no TV. Well, OK; that would be a good thing.
Some of us old fogies would be affected as well. True, we still remember (not that long ago) a time when one wrote letters, and calling long distance was only done out of necessity (when someone was born, died, or got married). Even then, mail was something few people sent as it required a combination of skills found lacking among the general population. But even us old folk have gotten used to the gratification of instant communication. More important, the instant availability of information supporting whatever wacky beliefs we happen to hold. The best part, no matter where we live, we can find a community that is as crazy, and sometimes crazier, than we are.
But it’s the younger generation who would be most affected. Their whole social structure revolves around the various communication channels made available by the advent of fast and (relatively) cheap technology. Should it end suddenly, how will they establish social rank, set up pecking orders, and identify the in-crowd? Think of it; what now looks uber-kewl would be viewed as semi-epileptic trashing if one is no longer wearing ear-buds and carrying an iPod in hand; what is now the staple of sophistication would transform into the mumblings of a demented person if one is no longer wearing a Bluetooth headset. You get the picture. No? OK, let me spell it out.
Whereas once clothes were the main visual signal as to the social status of adolescent (and immature young adults), clothes have now fallen into the role of secondary trappings. In fact, the crappier the clothes, the more they form a dichotomy with the sophisticated electronic toys one sports, and thus establishes the basis for social rank. A studious disregard for any kind of fashion sense combined with the latest i-Anything sets up the image most sought after by those who disdain anything with a cord.
Near as I can tell this is how it’s supposed to work; I see a disheveled, uncombed, slouching, semi-coherent being ambling my way, and my first reaction is justifiably one of pity. However, as the wretched being draws near, it casually whips out the latest generation iPhone, and the now-recognizable-as-a-human being proceeds to use various magical hand and finger gestures to elicit noises and visuals out of the technological wonder. At this point my jaw is supposed to fall open in awe of this visual incongruity. Unfortunately for the wretched being, me being me, I just feel sorry for the iPhone.
Just to be fair, there’s a subset of the population who loiters at the other end of the spectrum; they are impeccably dressed, coiffured, and studiously elegant in demeanor and comportment. These are the people who have discovered money (as in having a job) and have determined fastidiousness is the best way to self-worth. However, seeing as most of them are self-absorbed jerks, it matters little what wondrous electronic gadget they sport; jerks they remain.
But yes, I too will miss it all when the big one hits. Foraging for food, dodging falling satellites, and shielding my skin from the deadly rays no longer held at bay by the depleted atmosphere, I will think back fondly on the few decades that carried us from the first “hello” e-mail to the onslaught of thousand of e-mails promising something about inches… hmmm… maybe I’ll not miss it at that.
But hey, cheer up! There may not even be a massive solar flare. Instead, it could be a big passing asteroid decides Earth is as good a place as any to stop its wandering, in which case all our worries would come to an end in a relatively short time.