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Gentlemen, We Can Rebuild [It]. We Have the Technology.

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With all the hub-bub going on in Egypt, people are starting to wonder- just how easy would it be for the US to deny its citizens internet access and could the internet actually be “broken?” John D. Sutter has followed up his previous article about the protest situation in Egypt with another article that poses these questions and it really makes you think about all the possibilities for such shut down to actually happen- and how would people react?

Now I, as most 20 year olds, am on the internet for much of my day. Some of that time is actually being productive- checking bank accounts, paying bills, doing homework, devoting my life to Digital Storytelling- but lets be honest: I am a slave to my social media. If you were to look at my Chrome history you would see each new session of web-browsing 99% of the time begins with me checking my personal and school email, catching up on Facebook, then checking Tumblr, Twitter, my blog for comments, and ending with my blog stats (what can I say?- stat porn, as many other DS106ers tweet about, is fascinating) before any actual work occurs. That’s the routine and I follow it diligently.

The fascinating thing about today’s article is the reality of it all. The US government could essentially shut down the internet and do so fairly quickly. Sutter points out that the process would take some effort, but could be done:

The government would have to call four or five top internet providers and order them to disrupt Border Gateway Protocols in a way that shut down the majority of American internet traffic, he said. Others said the government would have to deal with the country’s thousands of internet providers in order to fully clamp down on internet access, which would be logistically difficult.

The recent situation in Egypt isn’t the first time such action has been taken to “shut off” the internet either- two other instances are recorded: “in Myanmar during 2007 protests; and in Nepal in 2005, when the king seized power.” The reassuring factor in all of this is that even though it could technically be done- our current laws prevent such totalitarian actions (you can almost hear a literal sigh of relief from every net addict in the US). It is interesting to point out that some US legislators have moved to enact a law that would allow the President to shut off internet in specific cases such as “cyberattack or other disaster scenario[s].”

I think it’s fascinating to think of the possibilities though. What would happen if the US shut down internet access? What would people do? How long before protests and riots began? What would be the magnitude of such protests? What would happen when all of our personal cyberinfrastructures came crashing down? How long would it take before access was restored?

In Egypt, internet access was cut on January 27th and finally restored February 2nd. That’s a full week the country was forced to go without and as a result an estimated 300 deaths have occurred (although the overall protest must be kept in mind- opposition to President Hosni Mubarak’s rule). Honestly, I think the results would be much more disastrous in the US simply because I feel that we rely more on the internet for work purposes and personal enjoyment as well. Now, that’s not to say that Egypt is in the dark when it comes to technology- I’m not saying anything like that- but to put it simply: US culture has evolved around the internet and it is such an integral part of daily life that society would come crashing down like a game of Jenga.

At least that would be the initial response, I believe. One can’t really shut down the internet completely anyways, for the internet is nothing but a huge network and, as the article points out, any attempts to fully “break” the internet would be fruitless. Instead, tons of smaller, more localized internets would be born. Should I prepare and start buying baby shower gifts now? What would one get a mother internet anyways? But I digress.

Eventually all the computer nerds, including the newcomers like myself, would begin to rebuild the internet from scratch and a new “internet” would be formed. After all- you can’t keep society down forever. I think it would be interesting to see the products of life without internet. Perhaps that should be one of our assignments- to digitally tell a story about life without digital stories.

I think the moral of the story is that we should be grateful for what privileges we are afforded and should explore this digital world to the fullest extent. DS106 for the win.

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