By Rose Inglis (she/her)
photograph by anest williams she/her
It was a regular day in the Zuckerberg metaverse and not an internet user around suspected anything else. Tweets were tweeting, web MD doctors were whatsapping, and tanning gummies were making a killing through love island alumni Instagrams. Little did we know that Norman was coming to ruin our perfect online world. Norman is a fish, a rather large fish, whose lack of understanding of the iPad generation led him to do the unforgivable. Feeling rather peckish, he scoured the sea bed for snacks, when he spotted some appealing black ribbons floating at the seafloor; some tasty eels perhaps? After taking a large chomp and discovering that this particular artefact was not at all pleasing, he spat it out and continued on his swim, looking to cleanse his palette with some smaller sea creatures. A very uneventful day in the life of Norman. Little did he know that his bite had severed the master cable for the world wide web; his afternoon snack had caused the first-ever global internet blackout.
What follows next dear reader I can not say, the first few days were dark; our society was left scared and abandoned. I have but a few blurry memories, people standing on roofs and hiking up mountains, searching meaninglessly for just one bar of signal, even 3G would do. However, a few days into the blackout, some reason began to take hold, while social structures rapidly evolved. The over 50’s became the technological elite, renting out DVD players and radios, charging hundreds of pounds for 5 minutes on the house phone, given that many had been relying on data-only mobile phone plans. Of course, this only worked after the initial overload of the telecommunication systems from everybody attempting to call via regular phone lines.
Bookshops were flourishing, with dictionaries becoming a best seller as people struggled to write without the power of autocorrect. There was a drop in grades as students fought for the library books needed to write an essay that matched the level of the internet-assisted pieces lecturers were accustomed to, with gruesome brawls breaking out between the bookshelves for the last copy of The Communist Manifesto. Within this realm of hysteria, social media celebrities, deprived of their online platforms, took a literal approach to their social influencing, standing in shop windows to advertise their products, while others clamoured for newspaper print columns to replace their daily inspirational Instagram captions.
There were some predictable consequences of the blackout – the consequences our parents often lectured us about would come from taking a break from the internet. We have spent more time having face to face interactions; concentration and productivity levels are up with people no longer addicted to rapid TikTok dopamine hits; reading is more popular than ever and people are consuming local arts and cultures. But for some, very little has changed. Over 4 billion people worldwide didn’t have access to the internet before the blackout. For example, my 90-year-old grandmother who had never had Wi-Fi installed was totally prepared. We forget that a world without the internet is not a neanderthal concept. Most of our parents lived half their lives without it, with fewer than 1% of the world being online in 1995. Yet, prior to the blackout, one of the top Google searches related to internet blackouts was whether we could even survive without the internet; I have to admit I was never this pessimistic.
However, I cannot deny that because of rapid technological development and our subsequent dependence on the internet, there have been devastating economic and social impacts from the blackout. In the early 2000s, we believed an internet shortage would predominantly affect small business owners and other day to day workers. However, much of this was based on surveys done following a 1998 pager blackout due to satellite failure, and so was hugely outdated. In the years since, the balance in businesses dependent on the internet has changed, with many affluent people solely relying on incomes from online platforms and systems, the loss of which caused a great economic shift. Following the blackout, the economic disruption caused by the downfall of global online conglomerates such as Amazon has now caused long term damage. Moreover, when the internet went out, any outgoing online payments were shut down, online banking was gone and banks became overwhelmed with our pleas for help; millions of payments to landlords, suppliers, and more were delayed, and many missed out on paychecks for months.
So as you can see, the blackout has not been easy, but it has brought us back to a way of life we thought was lost, and many of us are better people for it. We have banded together to support each other, and we have reconnected with the real world in a way most people in my generation have never done. So, when the last cable is repaired tomorrow, and this final diary entry has been filed, will I wake up in a world where we learn to balance the power of the internet with the beauty and solidness of the real world, or will it all be forgotten as the internet pulls as back into its all-encompassing embrace? I, for one, am optimistic, and will never forget the blackout and all it showed. So thanks, Norman, for showing us a new side to life; but next time you want to chew on an integral part of our global systems, bugger off and go find some seaweed.