Pretend for a moment that you wake up one morning to discover the Internet has disappeared. Would this be doomsday for us all?

What if  you woke up to an unexpected Internet breakdown? With no Google Maps to find your way in a strange city? With a credit card unable to pay for your lunch? You could argue that this kind of “digital detox” would be beneficial.

We’d take our eyes off screens and strike up real-life conversations with each other. We’d discover that our smartphones can actually make phone calls. We’d bring back fax machines, and start making notes by hand.

The world wouldn’t fall apart. In fact, with almost 4 billion people having no access to the Internet worldwide, half of the humanity wouldn’t notice a difference – in the short-term… But not you, mighty Internet user. You would notice right away! If the Internet suddenly flatlined, social media users would start calling each other on the phone, overloading working telecommunication systems…

Unless cell phone towers and telephone lines were also shut down. Then you’d go back to writing letters and sending them via post. Forget about wireless file transfers. With no WiFi, you’d have to use a physical cable to connect two computers. Or a CD.

Point and click. It’s a pretty simple concept that, in the Internet age, has almost become a form of exercise for some people. In 1991 the World Wide Web was officially branded (that ‘www’ in web addresses had to come from somewhere). The following year, people began popularizing web-speak with phrases like “surfing the Internet.”

Within two years, the number of websites online goes from hundreds to thousands, including offerings from the United Nations and the White House. From these baby steps the Internet has morphed into almost living entity, at least to some people. But what if it simply disappeared?

Some of the consequences resulting from an Internet-less world would be felt more by certain generations. An 85-year-old grandparent might still be more comfortable using an old-fashioned landline to call their grandchild rather than text them – an activity some people currently partake in dozens (maybe even hundreds) of times daily.

Image Source: Mark Skipper on Flickr

So no texting, no more surfing websites, and of course say goodbye to social media. If you only knew the last tweet you sent out about Justin Timberlake’s outfit during the Super Bowl halftime show would be your last… Now think about the economy.

Image Source: Santeri Viinamäki via Wiki Commons

With financial data generally stored on a server, banking services largely depend on the Internet. E-transfers would be impossible. You credit and debit card would become a useless piece of plastic.

And what about all those bitcoins you worked so hard to mine? Well, you know the answer… It is estimated that 85% of Americans use the Internet in some way or another. Not just for Facebook and Twitter – the global economy has shifted to an-ever increasing reliance on online shopping and financial transactions.

E-transfers would be wiped out. People would have to step back to writing their landlords rent checks. Trillion-dollar losses would be felt by a variety of industries around the world. Countries that rely heavily on the Internet to help with their economic growth and stability would drag less tech-savvy countries down with them as trade channels built around the online world collapsed.

On top of that, large companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon would go out of business, losing their combined revenue of almost $440 billion. With Google itself having 80,000 full-time staff, hundreds of thousands of people would be left unemployed.

Even companies that only rely on the Internet as means of advertising would be affected. Developed countries would lose entire industries, and face economic crisis. What about those countries with just a small Internet presence?

Image Source: Diether via Wiki Commons

They would be affected too, as international trade is dependent on the Internet. So is the world’s transit. With no Internet access between airports, planes, ships, trains, and commercial trucking, we’d go back to tracking goods on paper.

This would raise the market value of transported products, as it would be more complicated to deliver goods to stores. At least you could still travel. However, you won’t have Instagram to share your travel selfies anymore. Wonder if the Internet shutdown is even possible?

Well, not on a worldwide level. Some countries have actually introduced a “kill switch” to intentionally shut down Internet and telephone communications.

But killing the whole Internet is harder than just cutting off a couple of submarine cables. The Internet is the global network of many other computer networks. It doesn’t depend on a single machine. Even if one part of it went offline, others would remain functional. The Internet is still not the be all and end all of services available to mankind, but its disappearance would instantly change our world as we know it.

There are steps in place to ensure that this scenario could never happen, but it never hurts to burn a few dozen of your favorite YouTube videos onto a compact disc just in case.

Story by Jay Moon


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