The Archdruid has a treat for us this week, and a folding chair and popcorn should be procured by all – his next installment will be on the Death of the Internet. The fireworks should fly on this one. This post isn’t meant to upstage him (not possible, anyway!) – he’s a phenomenal writer, and he’ll do a great job as always of laying out a logical argument on what could happen.
What his, my, or anyone else’s take on the Death of the Internet, the UFO hypothesis (see below), Peak Oil, or the collapse of the financial system might be, the thing that always seems to get me is that so many people are so resistant to change, even when facts have been brought to the forefront, time and time again. Jim Kunstler has a term “psychology of previous investment” with regard to the ill-thought out massive investment in suburbia, and the same will probably go for the Internet as well. Ironically, the Internet, that allows us to have so many ‘facts’ on tap so easily, gives us so many different ones to chose from, and that might be part of the reason why accepting things can be so difficult. If you want to believe X, it is easy to find a site/group of people who believe X – and confirmation bias being what it is, you’ll probably hang out in that corner of cyberspace.
This is why one of some of my main questions to the regular luminaries in the Peak Oil, Climate Change (or any other) field are around trying to fight these biases, and being honest with your audience and self:
- Could you be wrong?
- Who is your best critic?
- What would it take for you to refute your thesis?
- How have you been wrong in the past?
- How have you handled new data that conflicts with your worldview?
- Have you made major changes in your worldview due to a series of new facts?
Last week, it was proposed that folks who live on the edge and the ‘mobile creatives’ might be more amenable to the Peak Oil message. Will they be more amenable to the Death of the (ubiquitous) Internet message? My thought is they might, for a few reasons:
- Cost – if you are living “close to the ground” (i.e. poor), you might not be able to afford a smart phone, or were a late adopter of one. So if you haven’t been using it for long, you won’t miss it as much. Likewise, you may not have bought into things like Netflix, or other bandwidth heavy and financially draining applications.
- Used to dealing with collapse and change – For those of us ‘collapsing early and beating the rush’, because of the lack of a day job, or steady income, this may be ‘par for the course.’ We are used to not having a stable base of operations, and are used to ‘outages’, in one form or another. The Internet will just be another one of those things that goes wonky from time to time.
- Awareness – Mobile creatives, because they can use the Internet, also know that it can be/could be a weak link in their entire chain of operations, and awareness of this is no different than looking at their entire suite of income streams/things that they do and saying “Not a good idea to depend on this one thing.” For those who see the Death of the Internet coming, they may wish to disconnect early.
- Too busy surviving – In a world where real unemployment is rising, who do you want to hire – someone who spends their time on a smart phone/surfing the Internet, or someone who is actually doing work?
- Job doesn’t require it – For those who work with their hands, the Internet is useful for getting parts, equipment, resources, but you can still do the work without it. In contrast, a programmer/web developer/social media consultant will be, by their very nature, affected heavily by network outages.
There are some counterpoints to this – for folks who are poor, having a smartphone may be cost effective, as you don’t need a laptop, and it allows you to get information which may save you money. But according to the Pew folks, poorer folks don’t have as many smart phones, and older folks don’t have them as much either.
Now, the Death of the Internet, if we follow JMG’s general outline (just guessing here), this loss will be a stairstep down affair, so the ubiquitous Internet might go away first, and then devolve the way it came, more towards a R&D and/or government utility, rather than something you get for free everywhere.
If anyone is going to handle this the best, it will be those folks in that previous Pew poll who don’t have smartphones, and who have already lived without the Internet, GPS, Amazon – older people.
More questions (as always):
- What will be the primary cause of the Death of the Internet? Government over-regulation and surveillance? Power outages? Cyber-terrorism? Willful abandonment?
- Who will handle this best?
- What will the reaction be by the general public? Politicians? Businesses?
- What sort of signposts will will see along the catabolic collapse pathway, as things go south? Bandwidth limitations? Paying for previously free services? Regions without service?
- The Internet was originally designed during the Cold War to send messages in a wartime environment. Will this matter?
- What will people do when cheap Internet gets expensive? Use less of it, or pony up the funds?
- Who will be hit the hardest?
- Which will go first – the cell phone network, or ubiquitous Internet? My money is on the cell network getting spotty first, but it could be that they are so intertwined these days, that it might be tough to separate them. Even landline phones are getting routed through cable modems these days.
- What will replace it? Private networks? Will we see a resurgence of the post office?
It would be great to hear more about how people accept change and new realities. There’s always the ‘nuts and bolts’ of collapse (fast, slow, stairstep) and what to do, but the mental processes behind the response to all of these things may be more important and instructive.
On the UFO Hypothesis
On a somewhat related note (about changing your ideological beliefs/ideas), I just finished JMG’s book on UFOs (The UFO Phenomenon: Fact, Fantasy and Disinformation), and as someone who has leaned towards the ETH, his hypothesis navigates well the problems in both the null hypothesis (NH) and the extraterrestrial hypothesis (ETH). As he has noted, he’s managed to upset both sides of the issue, which takes a bit of doing! For anyone who has read the classics from the UFO field, a lot of material is repeated, but for a one volume book, it contains a great summary and compelling arguments. One of the things that has always bothered me about the UFO field is that if things are so top secret, why hasn’t anyone in the military been indicted/thrown in jail for coming forward with revelations about them? This, coupled with the recent book/film Mirage Men makes me think JMG’s hypothesis has some serious merit to it.
The question that I do have is that if these advanced technologies are that advanced (and are part of our own stable of home-grown capabilities), then is it possible that the entire Peak Oil issue may be put off for a bit (this may be heresy, yes). Richard Dolan has discussed this in detail, and refers to it as the Breakaway Civilization, and it might, if that advanced, throw a monkey wrench in the classic predictions of collapse based on the declining availability of cheap fossil fuels. This of course, is not to suggest that free energy technologies actually exist – the evidence still has to be shown. Many in the Peak Oil community have always said that if such technologies did exist, it would still cause problems (i.e. thermal pollution). If something wild like actual antigravity was available, however, this might ameliorate our condition somewhat, spreading humanity in the solar system for a bit, but this probably should be put in the same category as planning on winning the lottery for a retirement plan, and it still wouldn’t unshackle us from the economic model of infinite growth which would still get us into trouble. If the government is hiding such technologies, it might be just for that reason – cheap free energy/antigravity couldn’t be introduced into a society like ours without making things even worse. And since our governments and institutions aren’t exactly driving us towards a steady state economy anytime soon, this possibility seems dim. There still are a few cases out there that really do need some explaining (the Tehran case in 1976, the Japan Airlines case over Alaska, the Stephenville case), and if these are based on terrestrial technology, there’s a whopping, massive gap between what we’ve got in the public space and in the deep classified world. If something the size of an aircraft carrier is seen flying about, it most likely isn’t powered by petroleum, and either way (ETH or not) that’s a big can of worms to open.