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Crazy 2012 Prediction #1

Having not heard of anyone brave enough to make wild predictions for 2012, I decided to start with this one.  I predict that there will be an “Internet” outage in 2012.  I’m not talking about an ISP going down, I mean that there will be a major outage of the “Internet”.  Here is the basis for my prediction:

The real Internet theoretically cannot go down because it was designed on a basic principle that information can travel to any destination through any number of alternate routes.  The effectiveness and simplicity of the concept is truly wonderful.  The “Internet”, in contrast, is what common people believe the web to be.  They rely on servers, either centralized or distributed, that can be interrupted.  In 2011, Research In Motion (RIM) encountered interruptions to services after a perfect storm of circumstances were put in motion starting with hardware that failed in a way unknown to either them or the equipment manufacturer.  Just like the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan, a cascade effect rendered the best efforts insufficient.  If this could happen to RIM, a company obsessed with reliability and security, could it not happen to other companies that are not as focused?  If such a situation were to happen to Facebook, Microsoft, or Google, the version of the Internet (the “Internet”) that people commonly use would be broken.  The information that the world relies on would be inaccessible causing distress unknown previous to the Internet Age.

Don’t think it could happen?  I put forth that if it could happen to the likes of RIM, it would be even easier for it to happen to other services.  It certainly happened to Sony in 2011, though for different reasons.  If you don’t believe as I do, then there are other factors you may also want to consider.  The obvious one would be the SOPA debate in which huge organizations want the ability to control a technology that they apparently don’t understand.  The intentions of SOPA and regulations like it aside, the proposals request interventions that undermine the way the Internet works in a timeframe that is ridiculously short compared to the evolution of the working model.  A weak point in the coding could have great and unexpected consequences to the backbone of the Internet.  Add to that the interests of too many fingers wanting access to that off switch that shouldn’t exist, and the danger increases.  There have been some countries that have already expressed great interest in putting boundaries on the Internet such as the Great Firewall of China.

Furthermore, the troubles in the repressed countries of 2011 where revolution was spawned revealed another weakness.  Many areas do not follow the interlacing model of the original Internet.  Some countries have as few as one point of access to the Internet backbone and communities in prosperous countries like the United States are equally limited in providers.  Like the great Roman Empire of legend, the Internet has been spreading across the globe leaving some areas sparse and hard to defend.

I would like to point out that this is a wild prediction.  I certainly do not hope that it will happen and admit that it would be rather devastating to me personally.  Also, I don’t think it would happen for very long in the real world but may seem like an eternity in Internet Years.  I’ll put this wild prediction in the “Damn, I hope not” category.


One Comments to “Crazy 2012 Prediction #1”

  1. Great post, Lee. We can’t (and shouldn’t) forget that no matter how wide the ‘net is, there will always be gatekeepers who mediate our experience of it. Despite its power and potential, the Internet (as end users experience it) can be a very fragile thing.

    On that note, did you ever hear about the Google programmer who mis-typed a URL into the search engine’s malicious website database? (S)he ended up causing Google to flag every site with a “/” in the URL (read: EVERY site anywhere online) as malicious, and subsequently blocked user access. It really highlights how tenuous our access to the online world can be. You can read it @ http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/01/31/google_malware_snafu/

    Whether it’s a clerical mistake or a nation-wide plot, a lot of outside forces can mediate and potentially disrupt our experience of the electronic world. So when you get right down to it, perhaps we should be asking ourselves where our responsibility as Internet users lies. If we base so much of our lives on the Internet, is it our responsibility to take a more active role in keeping it free and accessible for everyone (say, by protesting Internet censorship or operating proxy relays to help people gain unfiltered online access)? If we don’t work and fight for open information sharing, are we allowed to protest its atrophy when and if it comes?

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