A couple of weeks ago there was a blog post at TechCrunch (www.techcrunch.com) regarding web sites experiencing downtime as well as infrastructure companies experiencing failures in their operations. Obviously, the first take was on the revenue loss that each one of those companies experienced. In the case of the infrastructure company the concern and criticism comes from the websites they took down with them as they experience problems and their emergency systems failed. While I share on the critiques and concerns regarding revenue loss and customer experience, my take is more consumer centric.
Let’s take a few sentences to focus on defining some concepts: The Internet (internet) and the World Wide Web (web) are not the same. They are indeed related and one sits on top of the other. Internet is the infrastructure were the web sits. Internet is the infrastructure where also, email, Skype, Joost, Quicken and Quickbooks, amongst other applications, sit. But if you can access it on a “web” browser and is a website providing some form of a service, then it is the web. The web, in a sense, is a basic commerce platform. Basic not in terms of simple, but basic because it is a fundamental building block. While the Internet is the aggregated set of hardware and software implementing protocols that enable the web, email, etc. to exist.
The 20th century saw what seems today as accelerated development in technology. The second part of the century, initially driven by the Cold War, gave us a great many new technologies, the internet being one of them. As the infrastructure that is the internet expands into more places and high speed connectivity becomes a standard, more people benefit from access to the web. Indeed, the web of services available are of great benefit to us all; from the convenience of Online-Banking to entertainment to the access to more generic and educational content like Wikipedia. And we have just scratch the surface on the possibilities for services in the form of websites.
Both as the internet expands and service oriented websites become available, our dependency on those services grows as well. The problem must be viewed not in the form of a singleton, from a unique individual’s point of view. Of course, take away from me the online tools I use on a daily basis and my life will be extremely inconvenient. It is not just email, or the stock sites I visit and use, or Google. It is already ingrained in my way of life. So, imagine when a second person, who uses the same tools to interact with me, gets the same tools taken away? A small breakdown of the fabric of our society happens. Now, take it to a larger context, 100 people, all who interact with each other get their tools taken away. Disaster. Yet, we still do not have a complete break down on our society. It will take a few million around the world for that to happen. Nonetheless, it is a problem and a risk factor.
As individuals we are, more or less, dependent on technology as a whole. That dependency is based on personal preferences. But as a society we are infinitely dependent on technology. It is not just our cars, or the cellular telephone, or the internet and the web. It is the whole package. The difference, however, between the car or the telephone and the internet and the web, is that the internet and the web are more mission critical, but we do not realize the magnitude of how mission critical they truly are. The interesting part of the internet is that it was created as a fall-back and alternative communication channel in the case of a nuclear situation. Today, the internet is becoming THE COMMUNICATION channel. Again, our dependency on the internet and the web is becoming infinite.
A few years back there was a movie called Escape From Los Angeles (1996). It was a sequel to another movie premiered years before called Escape From New York (1981). Kurt Russell starred as Snake Plissken, a hard knocks ex military special forces and outlaw who did not mesh well with the new order of things. Both movies share the same basic plot. And both movies, although entertaining, had no permanent value – do not get me wrong, I loved both movies and to me they are cult classics. The second movie had an additional twist. The ultra religious conservative right had taken over the US’ presidency for a number of decades and had driven all form of freedom of expression to become illegal. Smoking had been banned, so was pornography, freedom of religion and speech. The media, all forms, was controlled by the government. In other words, all of the little freedoms to take for granted, in the movie, were gone.
Part of what drove the government and the citizenry was fear of being attacked by foreign forces; thus, a satellite was developed with the capability to neutralized all technologies in specific regions. The satellite was controlled by a remote controlled that had been siezed by a terrorist group which threatened the US if they US did not comply with some demand. Snake is sent in to retrieve the remote and if he succeeds all transgressions would be forgiven. He succeeds but suspecting the government about to double cross him, he decides to put the president to the test. As the plot against Snake is revealed, Snake activates the satellite using the global code. Thus, suppressing all technologies at a global level. Effectively, Snake sent planet earth to the 18th century.
Even though the movie uses technology as a gimmick to tell a tale, it is hard not to consider such a possibility. We have seen the effects on personal lives when online banking is not available or when Facebook goes offline. We have seen the effects on businesses when their sites crash and what it does to the bottom line. The instant something new comes up that sticks we immediately become dependent on it. And there is no end to it. It is as it should be.
Snake … press that button!!
UPDATE: A continuation of this post can be found here