One of our long-time readers and correspondents in Thailand followed up his comments with this:
Hello again, Bernard --We thought that was an excellent question and well worth a few column inches to explore.
Your thoughts on this topic would be most valuable:
What happens if no Internet?
Mike Adams, in Austin, Texas, publishes a high-falutin web site,
In a post today he writes:
"You can expect websites like NaturalNews.com ... and many others to be
seized by the government following a declaration of Martial Law. The
purpose of this is to prevent people from asking questions or being
informed. ... Natural News is right now working on an "information
underground railroad" technology that can allow readers to stay in touch
with us without using websites, browsers or email."
Have you given any thought to what life out here will be like with no
The short answer to our reader's question is this: if they ban the internet, the internet will go underground.
Now the long answer.
The internet grew out of the simple concept that linking two computers together was more powerful than either alone. Also, data could be distributed so that memory could be more efficiently utilized, while still making the sum total available by giving addresses to individual files.
Back in the Dark Ages of the early 70s, when I was learning about computers in high school, you had to dial up another main frame, place the phone in a cradle modem and then you could use the resources of the other machine. Most terminals were dumb, meaning that the machine in front of you had little or no computing power until it was linked with the main frame.
By the 1980s, I had an enormous, ugly IBM 8086 with monochrome monitor and dual 5.25" floppy drives. My first modem was a 300 baud stone axe, but it allowed me to link to other computers. At that time, the rage was something called a BBS (bulletin board service). Everyone was scrambling to get a copy of Dana Wood's list of phone numbers for various BBSs, each run by someone called a "sysop".
Each BBS had their specialty. Some were matchmakers, others for games, still others were exchanges for various hobbies and interests. Each registered user had an address that allowed them to exchange mail with other users on the system. Later, many of the BBSs would link up in the middle of the night and exchange mail with other remote systems allowing users to expand their contacts to other cities, and in some cases other countries. Later still, they added live chat functions.
All of this was really amazing at the time.
In the Middle Ages of the 90s, I was working at a major hospital in the Houston Medical Center, were online networking was in its infancy, linking the various institutions of the center with each other. Initially, we had to use various programs like Archie, Veronica, Fetch, and others. Each did a specialized function, like search, read, etc. Later, a program called Mozilla showed up that allowed a user to arrange files graphically and provided search and read functions built-in. This program later became Netscape and was the first official browser. Over time, the browser took on more and more functionality, while designers tried to develop more aesthetically pleasing layouts for what became known as web pages.
So what does all of this have to do with the possible shut-down of the net? Simple.
We know that if governments ban the internet, folks will find some way to subvert the ban. Witness China, Saudi Arabia and other countries where the internet is severely limited. There are plenty of people using a variety of means to get the banned information. There are dozens of ways to 'spoof' and 'route' and slide past firewalls. If there wasn't, WikiLeaks wouldn't have much to do.
As fast as the net was banned, a black market would spring up selling hardware and software that allowed buyers to create the links that have been lost. Think of all the people who have private servers, and the many more who have vast libraries of information. I've got one and a half terabytes of data stored right here, and there must be millions more like me. I've even got some old BBS software that would allow me to set up my own dial-up service.
So what would happen if 'they' shut down the internet tomorrow? Let's say 'they' only allow access to corporate media (propaganda) and corporate marketing sites. How would people exchange information?
As soon as something like that scenario happened, people like me would set up old-style BBSs using landlines and clandestinely distributed phone numbers. Eventually, the various BBSs would link up at set times to exchange email and data, say in the middle of the night. It would be a hell of a lot slower and folks would probably stop sending trivial things like jokes around, but it would allow contact again with distant folks.
It would put ice water on instant and wide-ranging searches making it very hard to get information, but not impossible. People would have to carefully consider their search strings to maximize effectiveness and networks of peer-to-peer links would eventually solidify into reliable info-gathering chains. The most reliable links would eventually shake out and firm up.
The limit on this sort of thing would be roving police thugs tracking down transmitters and confiscating them while imprisoning the operators. At this point, lessons from underground movements during wartime would be appropriate. Rotating schedules, detection ability and other work-arounds would be needed to prevent detection. Also, spoofing transmitters would keep such enforcement busy tracking down useless links and mask real broadcasters.
Another way things would work is to have central link points that would send and receive information via shortwave, copy it to portable media (disks, USB drives, etc.) and distribute them to the owners. Very risky, I think, but feasible. And the technology to send data and images via shortwave is established if somewhat limited. In a pinch, though, creative minds would solve a lot of issues rather quickly. Never underestimate the Mother of Invention.
The next step in control is simply cut power. This would be a radical step as it would alienate both sympathizers and radicals, which would be a bad move on the part of 'them'. It would also severely limit 'their' capability to propagandize, which is a central tenet of fascist states. TeeVee is one of the most wide-spread and effective mind-control devices ever invented and 'they' aren't likely to cut off their own nose to spite their face. Also, electricity is central to their ability to offer creature comforts as a prime tool in placating the masses.
But let's suppose 'they' cut off the power. Now we are back to hand presses and paper distribution. In other words, a return to pamphleteering, which even as recent as the 1980s was a staple of underground communications. I can remember going into underground bookstores all the way up to the 90s to buy banned information. It isn't difficult to restart that sort of thing, and in many parts of the world they still have brisk operations.
The thing is, people communicate. Throughout history, we have invented faster and broader means of communication with out far-flung relations. Books, pamphlets, telegraph, wireless radio, internet, even strings pulled taut with paper cups on the ends, humans will find ways to communicate. On tops of that, the genie is out of the bottle and it would be virtually impossible to put it back in. Granted, things would slow down tremendously, but we have to keep in mind that the internet is just an extension of ancient communication techniques. The real revolution is the digital storage medium.
I have built a considerable physical library over the decades, but the digital library I have amassed puts it to shame. I have hundreds, if not thousands of e-books from Aristotle to Zemekis, movies, TeeVee shows, essays, how-to instructions, recipes, and letters I've sent over the past 30 years (I don't trust remote storage, so I save everything locally). The beauty of multi-tasking is that I can be downloading dozens of documents while I read others. And I know I'm not alone.
One of the best parables for the fascist age is Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. You need to read this book. In a future where books are banned, people become living books by memorizing them and transmitting them to others who want them. It is the model for a post-internet world. In an hour, I can copy a fairly good sampling of world history and literature to other disks and distribute it making 24 in a day, one at a time.
I learned a long time ago that information is the life-blood of civilization, and because of that, my idea of 'prepping' was to collect as much information, both in my head and on my drives, as I could amass. People who store up food, water and such are only fighting half the battle. The other half is storing culture and art. Take a lesson from the wars and revolts of the past two decades. What's the first thing people do? The run to the museums and loot the art and culture: Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Syria, and on and on...they all have this one thing in common. It's the reason that the Sphinx' nose sits in the Edward and Victoria museum in London, and not on the Sphinx.
From pony express to Gutenberg's press to runners, humans have always sought mass communications at the fastest possible speeds. The internet is a major advance in the ability to transfer information, but it is the information itself which is the key. Transmission has never been much of a problem, only content. That we can store all of civilization on a couple of hard drives is the real wonder, and that is what everyone who worries about this problem should be focusing on.
My hard drive and CD collection may not rival the Library of Alexandria, but it would fill a wing quite nicely. We should be putting our efforts into saving all the information we can. Memory is cheap and readily available. The means to transmit it is inconsequential by comparison. If you want to get serious, print out your e-books on acid-free paper and store them in air-tight, fireproof safes. Short of that, there's power in numbers. If everyone takes the time to download a couple of great books or how-to manuals every day (no sweat to do right now), and stores them on good quality CDs or solid-state memory sticks, then the ability to distribute that information will take care of itself.
I see all the hand-wringing over the internet as a red herring. The real battle is for the information it contains. Never in history have so many had access to so much literature and culture so cheaply. It is a great thing, but it is not the main focus. We should be making personal efforts to save and pass on the information this tool allows us. That is the real value.
By analogy, look at Egyptian hieroglyphics. Until the 1800s, we were up to our eyeballs in pretty pictures and interesting scribblings. In other words, we had plenty of transmission, but no content. Then we found the Rosetta Stone. Suddenly, those pretty pictures (transmission) started delivering mass amounts of content (information). How we received the information was useless until we had the key to unlock the information stored inside.
We will always find ways to transmit information. It is in our nature. And one thing I've learned from living on a farm, and now in Indonesia, is that tools can be cobbled up out of chewing gum and bailing wire. Creating something with the tool is the trick. A hammer without a nail is pretty useless, in other words.
If you find content that you think is important enough, save it. Save websites and books and articles and pictures. Build yourself a library. Take the time to collect the information that is important enough to pass on. How you get it out to the world in a post-internet world is not important. Once we invent a technology, it can not be uninvented. All we can do is lose the reason to use it, and the reason is information. The means will always be there.
It's the task at hand that matters, and the internet is a tool for information. Don't focus on the tool, focus on the reason for the tool. You can ban speach, but you can't ban thought. You can ban cars, but you can't ban movement. You can ban houses, but you can't ban shelter.
Lately, I've been watching the old TeeVee series Hogan's Heroes on YouTube, not for the comedy, but for the creativity with which the characters approach problems. Very good writing, by the way. What it has reaffirmed for me is that the defining aspect of intelligence is creativity, and humans are nothing if not creative when they want to be. We are tool-makers and will always make the tools we need to do the job. The trick is having a job to do.