Imagine a scenario where a massive solar flare knocks out our internet and all other modes of modern technological communication. Imagine a rogue government or terrorist organisation developing or acquiring a hi-tech weapon that disables or shuts down or hijacks the internet and all other means of modern communication. Whether these sound like scenarios out of Hollywood, is not an important question. That these scenarios if not possible today, may be possible someday ahead, within our lifetimes, is an important fact. And they can be possible, there is a risk posed to humanity that such scenarios may actually present themselves.
The way humanity lives today is such, that for many of us the first world, our laptops, tablets and smartphones are like extensions of our natural biological bodies that we were born with. Most of us have lived in a world where to talk to someone on the opposite side of the globe it is a simple matter picking up a telephone at most. Most of us were born in times after the commercialisation of the telephone, television and the radio. Therefore, in the present day age, it will be unimaginable for us as to what it would be like, to be in a situation, when there is no radio, no television, no internet and no telecommunication anywhere in the world.
In an age where we are talking about exploring Mars, quantum internet, Artificial Intelligence, brainwave computing and such other technological advances, we cannot appreciate that there was a time when the most advanced form of communication was writing letters or scrolls that were manually delivered over land or sea without any satellite guidance. We cannot appreciate that there was a time when public broadcasting of electronic nature of mass communication besides manually delivered printed material did not exist.
Given the current state of humanity’s collective mental model and mindset framework, what can we expect in a situation, where all forms of technological or electronic communication come down? Are we prepared for such a situation, collectively, as a world population? Remember, the military and the police do not have radio systems to coordinate. Every human being will be cut-off by the physical distance with anyone beyond shouting distance. Do we collectively today, as at 2013, have the competency and capacity, to carry on, maintain ourselves and rebuild or regain whatever is lost?
The greatest tragedy of the human story will be, in the event of modern communication being lost, would be that if in such a situation we are unable to maintain what we have, restart and rebuild, the remarkable progress we have made since the beginning to the human civilisation till the present will be laid to waste. And such a tragedy is a very real and worrying possibility.
That in the absence of modern communication avenues, order will collapse, because systems in place to maintain the order would not able to function without those communication avenues, is a frightening possibility. At worst, it could be a trigger for anarchy. In a sudden death of communication technology that is global in nature, the problem will only be amplified, as nobody will be able to help another rectify or mitigate the situation.
While humanity’s focus for last few decades have been on technological advancement or the adaptation of technological means and platforms, perhaps the puzzle of our real progress has inadvertently been left incomplete by oversight; have we progressed socially, psychologically and culturally? Have we progressed in the non-technological, human ways? Or rather, have we gone into the reverse mode, where we are lesser in our dependence upon ourselves without reliance on modern technology, than our ancestors were, before modern technology existed?
Perhaps some communities, societies or even nations may have in place contingency plans or preparations or exercises for such an emergency situation. However, to prepare a population practically, in the present age, for a world without electrical or advance modes of communication is quite another thing from say a water rationing exercise, fire evacuation drills or bombing raid evacuation drills. In sum, the threat of a sudden death of our communication technology today, is one more daunting than a threat of war, fire, famine or drought.
The threat is daunting because of its magnitude of implications. Everything from commerce to education to public administration will come to a complete halt without modern communication technologies.
The problem today, with this risk that exists, that the technology we so much rely upon for the fulfilment of every communication purpose may actually possibly collapse or fail us, is that because we have not seen a world without it, that we are not used to it, we are not prepared for it, having taken the technology for granted for so long. Humanity today is untested in such a scenario, not least because perhaps we cannot afford to create such a situation nor hold ability to adequately simulate one. While some of us, especially Futurists amongst us who work on possibilities, may have ideas on what we may have to do if confronted by such a scenario, whether humanity collectively will react or respond along those ideas, if such a scenario indeed arises, is another matter. And the dynamic nature of humanity and human society is such, that no statistical tool, method, system, application or technology can aid in acquisition of any reliable answer, which makes such a scenario extremely ambiguous and all the more a greater threat.
So, is humanity prepared for a sudden death of our communication technology? We better start working on a “yes” for an answer. And that “yes” will necessarily have to be based on non-technological human reasons.