Monday, November 8, 2010

What if the Internet stopped?

At the start of the current New Media course, one of the students asked a fundamental question: why do we feel that we need to keep up with what's online? I've been pondering, and came up with a few pedestrian points:
  • Basic human need for feeling of connection with others/security
  • Keeping up with the Jones'/fashion/knowing what's cool
  • Cheaper - economies of concentration
  • Saves time (compared to ringing shops to find out if they have a product)
  • Wider range of options in many products/services
  • "Meet" new people, partners and ideas
  • Risk aversion through knowledge
  • Avoiding boredom by producing/doing things?
Southpark did a parody where the Internet stops and people have to drive to the west coast for 40 seconds of service. It quickly degenerates after the first few minutes into speculation about what might happen to internet porn addicts, but the first clip is well worth a view:

Or there are some lovely photoshop ideas of how it might be on, like this one from Rohan Ramakrishnan.

Answers from the man in the street and Yahoo include:
  • my telephone bill would go up and i would spend much of my time at the library. i love to read.  []
  • I would probably lose 10 pounds and have a better relationship with my wife hahahaha.
  • Posting letters through the post.
  • Sit at the same table to play games together and eat
  • Participate in more social activities (ice skating, bowling, swimming, etc etc.)
  • Governments could still lie to people and get away with it.
  • There would be more privacy.
  • The entertainment industry would probably be happier because it would be harder for people to access their copyrighted materials for free.
  • Bill Gates would be some poor dude working at McDonald's.
  • There would be no money transactions apart from queueing at the bank.
  • No spam.
The most resonant comment I found was from Lynn Greiner at "This immediately made me think of E.M. Forster's disturbing tale "The Machine Stops". Written in 1909, it describes the downfall of a civilization that had wrapped itself in the cocoon of an automated life-support system. They worshipped it in their fashion until, in the words of the author, there came a day when, without the slightest warning, without any previous hint of feebleness, the entire communication system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended." "Kuno comes to [his mother] Vashti's ruined cell, however, and before they perish they realize that Man and his connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the Machine from being repeated."

Prescient, but perhaps a little too apocalyptic, Mr Forster? Damien Mulley recently asked on his blog: "So does being digitally connected elsewhere make us appreciate here?" My comment in response was an emphatic "Yes!" but you'll have to follow the link to find out why...

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