Today, we enjoy many conveniences that have been made possible by our technology. We can talk to a friend a world away, in real-time, with clear video to make eye contact as we talk. We can pay our bills and order the next week’s groceries and supplies without leaving the comfort of our couch. We have come to accept these things as reality and enjoy the streamlining of our lives. But, what would happen if the internet suddenly went down and could not be restored quickly?
In 1859, a massive solar flare erupted from the sun. This flare, which is known as the Carrington Event, allowed people Cuba to see the Aurora Borealis. Telegraph operators reported fires in their equipment and communications were affected significantly.
It makes one wonder what may happen if another similar event were to happen today. Satellites that are responsible for GPS could be damaged beyond repair, and the infrastructure for the internet could be wiped out. Our society has become so dependent on these things, that it would be devastating if something like this occurred today.
Are we prepared for an event like this or are we blissfully going through our daily activities, unaware of the potential calamity that would arise? While a solar flare that size may be rare, we also cannot rule out outages due to cyber-attacks or direct assaults on the technology that we have come to depend on.
Don’t believe it is possible? I recently had an experience that made me realize the potential of just such an event. This past April, I was travelling through Wyoming and stopped for gas in Casper. I had enough money in my account to fill up and needed the fuel to make it home. I swiped my card and received a message to see the attendant. I went into the gas station to pre-pay, thinking something was wrong with the card reader.
The person at the counter took my card, swiped it and told me that it was not accepted. I was frustrated, but returned to the car to check my account on my smartphone. When I opened my banking app, I received a strange error message and was unable to check anything regarding my account.
Therefore, I called the bank and found out that the entire computer system for banking transactions in the state was down. This was about 3 pm on a Friday and the woman on the phone explained to me that they would probably not be able to get things running for at least a few hours, but it appeared that it may take until Monday to rectify. I was stuck and angry, but I soon realized that this minor setback could be much worse. What if the entire internet went down and no one could get it running again for an extended period of time.
If you have not thought about this before, it may scare you when you do. Science fiction often details things that could happen, but most people read it and see the events as far-fetched and not truly possible. However, the potential for the internet and other things like satellites going down is very real and the consequences are frightening. Are people and businesses prepared, or would society erupt into violence, looting, and unrest?
Without the internet, banking transactions would not be possible as everything is connected. Debit and credit cards would cease to work and banks may be unwilling provide cash withdrawals without being able to verify a person’s account balance. This is enough to incite fear as it would become impossible to buy groceries and other staples without our cards or cash. But this is only the beginning.
Without GPS, many people would be incapable of navigating to their destination and systems that rely heavily on GPS would become inoperable. Imagine the panic and hysteria that would follow. Most people do not have adequate emergency supplies and this situation would only exacerbate things if the internet and other technologies went down.
The horrendous things we see happen in areas hit by earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes would be seen nationwide, if not worldwide. Looting and violence might spread like a virus to every corner, leaving more devastation than one would expect from losing our internet and other systems. One must ask if she or he is prepared for such an event, but we must also ask if the nation and its leaders are also ready for such an event. While I am sure there are people working on a solution, will it be too little, too late?
What other everyday conveniences tied to our technology could result in mass panic if they disappeared without a backup plan in place?