The Age of the Internet

OLPC: XO internet access

OLPC: XO internet access (Photo credit: OLPC)

Living in the internet age can be a double-edged sword. With our ever-increasing reliance on technological wizardry to connect, organise and entertain us, it’s easy to forget just how in the dark one can feel if they drop off the grid – especially if the loss of connection to the world wide web comes as an unexpected inconvenience. At any given time, there are approximately 360,000,000 people using the internet across the globe – and if that number of zeroes looks daunting to you, then allow me to spell it out. Three hundred and sixty million people. That’s about 5% of the population of the entire planet. Furthermore, one full third of the planet now has internet access, via wireless hotspots, personal household internet access, and business access – and this is expected to rise to half the planet within the next three years.

Given these incredible statistics, it’s strange to think that only a decade ago, using the landline while browsing the internet would disconnect your painfully slow dial-up connection, and mobile phones came with pixel art versions of Snake. Nowadays, I don’t leave the house with at least two wireless-enabled devices – my smartphone, and my Nexus 7 Android tablet. This means that (apart from those rare occasions when I can’t find a hotspot), I’m constantly connected to the web. At home, I maintain a high-speed broadband connection at all times. As a journalist, the internet can be an invaluable tool, both for research and for publishing, and for communicating with my colleagues. So imagine my horror when the connection goes dark.

Unfortunately, it’s a dilemma that the majority of us know well – if our internet access goes dark, we are effectively blind, deprived of the technological connections and input that we rely so heavily on to perform our day to day tasks – and being modern, internet-savvy children of the computer age, we panic. We’re plunged back to the level of our technological ancestors, desperately seeking that elusive bar of phone signal or that unsecured wi-fi spot on a crowded train or lonesome stretch of road, so we can squeeze scant kilobytes worth of email to our loved ones and employers, to let them know that the unthinkable has happened – we don’t have connection.

Internet!

Internet! (Photo credit: LarsZi)

Now, this may seem like the very definition of a ‘first world problem’, but the reality is that the Western world runs on the Internet – its penetration into our society has become so widespread that online communication has eclipsed both phone and physical mail, meaning that loss of connection can mean a very real issue with the day-to-day running of many workplaces. Indeed, as of 2012, many disaster relief agencies list ‘loss of internet’ along with ‘loss of electricity’ and ‘loss of running water’ as one of the biggest problems faced in the wake of a larger catastrophe. A full-scale loss of internet connection is now used as a fictional device similar to that of a global plague, zombie outbreak, or total loss of power. However, it’s easy to forget, in this age of technological supremacy, that it is possible to survive without it.

So, next time your internet drops out unexpectedly, try and resist the urge to panic, curl up in a foetal position, and desperately wave your phone in the air looking for a bar of signal – just remember, we’re the middle children of a technological revolution, and our reach often exceeds its grasp. By 2020, it is estimated that the entire Western world will have high-speed wireless access, wherever we are – so you haven’t got long to wait.

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