Posted on August 26, 2017
I, like most people, rely on fallback fantasies to be able to sleep at night. If I lost my house, for instance, I could just fall back to apartment life. If I lost my car, I could just fall back to public transport. And if I lost the internet, I would just fall back to television, snail mail, and face to face conversations.
That is such bullshit. I haven’t shared a wall with a stranger in forty years. I nearly killed a man over a barking dog once. I can’t stand the fifteen minutes it takes me to drive to the office. The bus takes over an hour to cover the same ground. Without the internet, life itself would cease to have meaning.
The reason we believe this stuff in spite of it being obviously ludicrous is because we have to. Otherwise, we would live in constant terror of having our cushy existence upended. It’s especially easy to believe the fallback theory when it comes to the internet because the fucking thing has only been around in its current form for fifteen years. How far could we have possibly gone down a road in just fifteen years that there’s no turning back?
If you want to get a feeling for how intrinsic internet connectivity has become to modern society over that short period of time, give Wayne Gladstone’s Notes From The Internet Apocalypse a read.
The conceit of the story is that the internet just up and disappears one day. No one knows where it went or who has it. They just know that they somehow have to adapt to life without it until it is returned to them.
We follow the oddly named protagonist, Gladstone, through a New York City brought low by the loss of omnipresent connectivity on his search for and attempt to bring back the internet.
I’m not going to spoil the many ways he illustrates the rough landing people make when the object of their addiction is suddenly withdrawn from them, that would rob you of too many belly laughs and smirking nods of the head which are the real pleasure in reading this book, even though I am tempted to.
Let’s just say that netizens don’t hop right back to campfires and conversation pits. Our lives have been genetically altered by the internet to function efficiently only with the internet. Going back now would be the equivalent of returning to a raw meat diet. Our bodies have adapted over hundreds of thousands of years to eat cooked meat. “We are the species that cooks,” as Michael Pollen says in Cooked.
We are also the species that Reddits, 4Chans, Tweets, Facebooks, and Snapchats. We commute to work over broadband as much as we do highways. Why are Russian agents able to cripple our infrastructure? Because it’s all on the internet. If the internet disappeared, nothing, NOTHING would work again. Not our machines. Not our society. Not us.
And if you want to know what the squirming, tweaking, gnashing withdrawal symptoms would look like, there’s no better place to start than Gladstone’s book.