What if the Internet stopped working for a day? It wouldn't be as bad as you think

There are all kinds of doomsday scenarios that can play out or have at one point played out in a movie or TV show from a nuclear war to an alien invasion. One of the first things that would be eliminated is the Internet. How would the world react? How would we all react? It is an intriguing question and hopefully one that will never needed to be answered but the Internet can stop working because of something less menacing than ET.

We use the Internet for nearly everything today. For entertainment, to socialize, for work or school or just to blow off steam. We can chat or play games with anyone from around the world. It has exposed us to other cultures and even the ugly sides of our own. If someone is offline for more than a day people begin to wonder if they are OK. So we will start with what would happen if the Internet stopped working for one day.

3.5 billion people are online around the world, around half of the world’s population. Nearly three quarters of Americans use it daily. Companies rely on it and commerce is conducted through it. Losing the Internet for even a day could have disastrous consequences right?

Not really. Most Internet outages are relatively short as there is enough redundancy. Most people would simply wait until the next day to make their purchases. Interestingly enough work productivity could actually increase. Without the distraction of the Internet employees could catch up on some of the more mundane tasks that they have to perform like paperwork. A brief outage would also not affect travel either. All vehicles, from planes to trains, can run without the Internet. Businesses believed that they would lost millions or billions of dollars but a 2008 study found that was not the case with most interruptions resulted in only minimal loss.

The most distressing aspect would be communication. People depend on their phones and for some it is their livelihood. Now some people could benefit from being off of their phone for even an hour but for people like plumbers or electricians to freelance workers this could seriously affect their bottom line even if the outage is only for an hour. Many people feel anxious when they are out of communication. Every possible negative scenario plays out in their head creating more anxiety than there needs to be and when service is restored they will breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Should the outage last for more than a day there would be much larger ramifications. Cloud computing has changed our world and the way we work and live. Transferring files is done in seconds. With the cloud down, computers must be connected physically or have the files transferred to a disk decreasing employee productivity as the backlog increases. Productivity will diminish further the longer the Internet stays down. Businesses that depend on the Internet for advertising or depend on a service like PayPal for revenue could be in trouble. With digital economies the ability to pay for goods and services could disappear leading to anarchy as people will not have cash on hand. Politicians and the military would try their best to maintain order but they rely on the Internet as well for communications and logistics (after all it was originally a military innovation) and will also be in the dark. Paranoia will set in as military leaders worry about threats of invasion should the Internet remain down and with no way to verify the veracity of rumors.

So how could the Internet be disrupted? A cyber attack would probably be the main culprit. Cyber criminals could unleash a massive DDoS attack stopping all Internet traffic in its tracks (this did happen in 2016). A deep sea cable which services a country or region could be cut or tampered with. This has already happened, back in 2008 in the Middle East and brought huge disruptions to the Internet. Some governments even have a kill switch to disrupt the Internet deliberately. Iran and Turkey have one in order to prevent the spread of protests and unrest and it is believed that China has one as well. Something like this has also been mulled here in the US as a proposal to defend the nation from a cyber attack. Satellites could also be taken out, either by space debris or deliberately. If you think about it the Internet is quite fragile.

The good news is that the chances of the Internet going down for more than a day are remote indeed as most outages last for no more than a few hours. Should it go out it could be a good time to talk to your neighbor, take a walk or even just read a book. Children could go play outside. It is not the end of the world!

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