Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times?

Sharon July 30th, 2009

If you didn’t see Kris De Decker’s fascinating essay on the embodied energy cost of high technology, you definitely ought to.  De Decker writes;

Most important, however, is the energy required to manufacture all this electronic equipment (both network and, especially, consumer appliances). The energy used to produce electronic gadgets is considerably higher than the energy used during their operation. For most of the 20th century, this was different; manufacturing methods were not so energy-intensive.

An old-fashioned car uses many times more energy during its lifetime (burning gasoline) than during its manufacture. The same goes for a refrigerator or the typical incandescent light bulb: the energy required to manufacture the product pales into insignificance when compared to the energy used during its operation.

 Advanced digital technology has turned this relationship upside down. A handful of microchips can have as much embodied energy as a car. And since digital technology has brought about a plethora of new products, and has also infiltrated almost all existing products, this change has vast consequences. Present-day cars and since long existing analogue devices are now full of microprocessors. Semiconductors (which form the energy-intensive basis of microchips) have also found their applications in ecotech products like solar panels and LEDs.”

De Decker’s conclusion is that it might well be harder to maintain access to the internet than we have imagined.  Because the energy costs have to be frontloaded into the product, as energy and resource prices rise, we may see an end to the decline in technology prices and the expansion of availability.  De Decker also points out that recycling is no solution – it takes massive amounts of energy to recycle the components of high tech materials. 

I find this evidence dovetails with my own assumptions about energy-intensive resources – it is possible, of course, that they will disappear, but more likely (and thus, less easily believed) that people will simply stop being able to afford them.  The planned obsolescence of most computers is already foretold – replacing them is cheap now, when w are affluent. It will not always be. And while public institutions like libraries and schools may maintain some of these resources, it is impossible to do the scale of work that most of us do on the internet relying on these alone. 

John Michael Greer has made the case for the possible end of widespread internet access eloquently in his essay “The End of the Information Age” where he argues that we mostly don’t think this could happen because we don’t want it to happen.  But in fact, the loss of the internet for the majority is not an unlikely occurance:

“Very few people realize just how extravagant the intake of resources to maintain the information economy actually is. The energy cost to run a home computer is modest enough that it’s easy to forget, for example, that the two big server farms that keep Yahoo’s family of web services online use more electricity between them than all the televisions on Earth put together. Multiply that out by the tens of thousands of server farms that keep today’s online economy going, and the hundreds of other energy-intensive activities that go into the internet, and it may start to become clear how much energy goes into putting these words onto the screen where you’re reading them.

It’s not an accident that the internet came into existence during the last hurrah of the age of cheap energy, the quarter century between 1980 and 2005 when the price of energy dropped to the lowest levels in human history. Only in a period where energy was quite literally too cheap to bother conserving could so energy-intensive an information network be constructed. The problem here, of course, is that the conditions that made the cheap abundant energy of that quarter century have already come to an end, and the economics of the internet take on a very different shape as energy becomes scarce and expensive again.
Like the railroads of the future mentioned earlier in this post, the internet is subject to the laws of supply and demand. Once the cost of maintaining it in its current form outstrips the income that can be generated by it, it becomes a losing proposition, and cheaper modes of information storage and delivery will begin to replace it in its more marginal uses. Governments will have very good reasons to maintain some form of internet as long as they can, even when it becomes an economic sink – it’s worth remembering that the internet we now have evolved out of a US government network meant to provide communication capacity in the event of nuclear war – but this does not mean that everyone in the industrial world will have the same access they do today.

Instead, as energy costs move unsteadily upward and resource needs increasingly get met, or not, on the basis of urgency, expect access costs to rise, government regulation to increase, internet commerce to be subject to increasing taxation, and rural areas and poor neighborhoods to lose internet service altogether. There may well still be an internet a quarter century from now, but it will likely cost much more, reach far fewer people, and have only a limited resemblance to the free-for-all that exists today. Newspapers, radio, and television all moved from a growth phase of wild diversity and limited regulation to a mature phase of vast monopolies with tightly controlled content; even in the absence of energy limits, the internet would be likely to follow the same trajectory, and the rising costs imposed by the end of cheap energy bid fair to shift that process into overdrive.

The waning of the internet will pose an additional challenge to the future, because – like other new technologies – it is in the process of displacing older technologies that provided the same services on a more sustainable basis. The collapse of the newspaper industry is one widely discussed example of this process at work, but another – the death spiral of American public libraries – is likely to have a much wider impact in the decades and centuries to come. Among the most troubling consequences of the current economic crisis are wholesale cuts in state and local government funding for libraries. The Florida legislature was with some difficulty convinced a few weeks ago not to cut every penny of state support for library systems – roughly a quarter of all the money that keeps libraries open in Florida – and county and city libraries from coast to coast are cutting hours, laying off staff, and closing branches.”

Greer and I don’t agree on everything, but in this case, our visions are very much in accord.  Just as I keep beating the drum that even more likely than grid failure is the likelihood we may find ourselves unable to afford electricity, I think the odds are good that even if the internet remains, it may be out of reach to many of us – technically, it is possible for each of us to have a private airplane, but the technical ability to have it doesn’t make it economically or structurally feasible.

We also agree on the importance of libraries and other methods of preserving information access.  The more we rely on the internet, and assume it can exist as a repository of available knowledge, the more we lose.

And this is also true of community – so many of us rely on the internet to find like minded people, to find communities around us.  And that time we spend on the internet is time we don’t spend in direct connection to other people.  Now we may not be able to get from our neighbors what we get here – just as we may not be able to get in hard copy at our library what we can get on the internet.  But it would be wrong not to recognize the possibility that at some point we will be left with only our library (or not even that if we allow state budget cuts to undermine that) and with only the people around us. 

I once wrote an essay called “The Revolution Will Not be Blogged, Either” (now I should probably add tweeted or facebooked) in which I noted that no technology is without its unintended negative consequences – and I think the assumption that we are making, that the internet will always be here for all of us – and I think it is an assumption made even by many people who should know better – risks enormous negative consequences.  Whether we are printing out valuable information (on the backs of other paper, of course) or remembering that even though we may like the people on the internet better, we still will have to live with our neighbors, perhaps exclusively, our assumptions should be that we may not always have things, just because we find it unthinkable to live without them.


32 Responses to “Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times?”

  1. Abbieon 30 Jul 2009 at 12:19 pm

    I’ve often thought that when hard times really hit, there won’t be an internet or I won’t be able to afford it or electricity or something. Perhaps that’s why I’m trying to learn as much as I can now.

  2. Claireon 30 Jul 2009 at 12:40 pm

    The difficulties of public libraries are especially troubling in this regard. We can read as long as we have eyes and daytime, so books, if printed on good stock and cared for well, are a reasonably sustainable means of sharing information. It would be a huge loss not to have that resource widely available. Libraries are way cheaper than colleges as a means for learning a subject, and way more democratic too.

    I’ve already been priced out of new computers; I’m typing this on a several year old Mac we purchased used about six months ago. I’m not sure we’ll get another computer when the current one is too obsolete to access the Internet from home, especially with the info you shared about the tremendous embodied energy cost. For that reason I don’t do banking online or pay any bills online, and that’s part of why I don’t have a blog (not that I would wish you to stop writing yours). Then I can let a computer be the luxury item it really is instead of the necessity I might otherwise think it is.

  3. Shambaon 30 Jul 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I’m with Abbie on that, learning all we can from the Internet, other people and friends on the internet or wherever you find the information.

    All my information I have digital format I ought to think about printing out–like you say on the paper I’ve already got something printed on. I certainly have enough of that!

    I’ve been making real efforts to stop and talk to my immediate neighbors when I see them, not just waving as we go by. I’ve been sitting and chatting with some neighbors who sit around the pool late, after 10 p.m. at night with a beer just chatting. They don’t come out until that late because of our heat these days. I’ve just been doing it to know them better and know more people in my complex. I think more and more of how we need to know more about the people around us. WE also may not like some of what we find out but they are the ones who we may have to ask for help or they may ask us. Most of my neighbors would be willing to help in almost any situation if they were asked, I’ve discovered.

    I also fear the other side of losing the net and other far-flug sources of knowledge and pleasure. The shrinking pool of knowledge and information we would all lose from the closing down of the net and other forms of communication, the suspicion and fear that can come with not knowing about people different from you and yours, not enough local sources of info, as you say, the closing down of local libraries.

    oops, didn’t mean to run on and I have to get going but I really like dthe points you’ve rainsed here, Sharon.

    Peace to All,

  4. Shambaon 30 Jul 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Haste is not the friend of typos, forgive mine today!


  5. Karinon 30 Jul 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I was at my public library, checking a book out, and talking with the librarian. We both marveled ,that just 14 years ago, universal cell phones and access to the internet were not available.

    Somehow the world managed without it.

    Although, I would miss the internet based interlibrary loan service.

  6. risa bon 30 Jul 2009 at 1:11 pm

    I spent 11 years of my “spare” time putting up, with others, Early Modern texts on the Internet, almost from the day there was an Internet. We used IBM 286 computers at first, and those who found us back then were using a menu system called “gopher,” then a browser called Lynx, which were both text-only.

    It was fun. And it was exciting, the day the counter rolled over its fifteen millionth page view.

    But by then, we had, along with everyone else, discovered graphics, and the size of our files had exploded exponentially. It took a lot of electrons (it seemed to me) to move some of these books around.

    I felt it was a service, because so many of our — to me — fascinating texts were otherwise unavailable to so many. If we had a mission, it was to provide an end-run for students who could afford the prices academic publishers charge for some of these things.

    Now I begin to wonder whether the time might not have been better spent puttering around in the garden. The cost of all that electronic whizzing, while the earth warmed up and the oceans were emptied of fish, weighs heavily.

    Now, with streaming video in high def, my own contribution to the energy cost of information seems really tiny. But it adds up, like car exhaust.

    I think I might actually be relieved if it all collapsed. I have books. I can, after a long day among the beans, sit under the plum trees with Dillard or Rousseau. I recognize that a book, like a laptop, is a pleasure of privilege, and that it comes with an ethical conundrum. But its cost, ethical as well as in footprint, seems to me much less.

  7. risa bon 30 Jul 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Tank about typos, Shamba!

    In post above, for “could afford” read “could NOT afford.”

  8. Erikon 30 Jul 2009 at 1:26 pm

    And, of course, the production of books is itself now so highly computerized that I shudder to think what will happen to *that* industry in the coming decades… leaving, perhaps, significantly less material to put into the libraries that are being closed anyhow.

  9. Laurie in MNon 30 Jul 2009 at 2:04 pm

    at least if worse comes to worse, we can always go back to printing them one page at a time on a typeset press. ;) Of course, the issue at that point might be the cost of good paper….

  10. Anion 30 Jul 2009 at 3:19 pm

    And of course, who writes letters these days; can’t remember the last time I got an actual handwritten letter from a friend as we just e-mail or call if they live at a distance. It’s funny because I know that most people assume that sending an e-mail is less energy intensive than sending a letter by the USPS- but I have long guessed it isn’t, due to the server farms as well as the embodied energy costs of the whole computer network;I wonder if any analysis of this has ever been done?

    An ironic side to all of this though is that I am in the process of developing a business which I can do here at the house, which will use the internet for both procurement of materials, advertising and sales, and the USPS to ship the items. Living in a very rural area I thought it was pretty cool that I literally won’t have to drive anywhere to conduct this business; a real benefit if gas prices go up or in bad weather. Of course this is all dependent on both the internet staying around, my affording access to it and so too my potential customers……. sigh…..

  11. Nancyon 30 Jul 2009 at 3:25 pm

    As a public librarian in a medium sized city, I get very frustrated with people who say “we don’t need libraries now that we have the internet”. These people are operating on two false assumptions.
    First of all they are assuming that everyone owns a computer and has internet access. My library is filled every day with people who already can’t afford the technology and for whom the only internet access available to them is at the public library. This has become increasingly important as many of our state agencies including the tax commission have gone completely digital. Where would these people go to file their tax return if not for public libraries?
    Secondly, they have a very limited and incorrect view of what libraries and librarians do. Librarians do not exist simply to guard the books! A librarian’s job is to organize information and then connect the information with the user who needs it. That used to mean books and periodicals. Now it also means digital information. In fact, there is SO much information available now that it can easily be overwhelming. A librarian can probably get you to the info you need in a lot less time than it takes to “google” a topic and sift through pages and pages of search results.
    Stand up now for your libraries people because you are really going to need them!

  12. Brad K.on 30 Jul 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Laurie in MN,

    Paper might be an issue, but libraries are not the only instance of destroying industries because they are out-served, today, by the internet.

    It takes years to build an industry that puts out a newspaper. The week after the paper closes, it would likely be possible to reopen the doors. But a year later? you would have to start over, start with semi-experienced management, editors, and build new teamwork, new workflows – and find the equipment to perform the printing, folding, and distribution functions. Consider the cost today, if you dumped 20 delivery vans on the surplus market. Then a year later needed to acquire 20 vans – the costs and effort would be enormous.

    Same with the mechanics of book publishing. Or look at your local school system – how many teaching materials, tests, review materials, and financial and performance reports are accomplished over the Internet? Dismantling that would be tough. Returning to manual systems that actually work would take years.

    Consider the number of auto and tractor and equipment and truck maintenance facilities that have discarded other systems, from print to microfiche, to put manuals and procedures online. Getting that technical printed again, in sufficient quantities, would likely be an . . . interesting . . . task.

    What I have noticed about my local library is how popular they are. They stock books that are popular in reviews and in the community. They deliberately and consciously stopped being a resource of information, and instead focus on current trends. Looking at the books and references taken off the shelves (book sales), it is obvious they don’t care about depth of information, they don’t care about being a resource in the event people need to retreat from the presence of the internet in the community.

    When we can’t get the internet, when we need to see how GreyDragon constructs a usable rope bed, the library’s “Internet for Dummies” won’t be much comfort.

  13. Josephon 30 Jul 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Whew – Sharon how do you write so much? – having trouble keeping up with your blog.

    Of course, I do spend a lot of time keeping up with ecological and political news, so…..after 4 years of using library computers, I finally bought my first laptop…reluctantly.

    The amount of water and resources used to create a laptop is incredible. And, for example, one of the vital materials – coltan – is a contributing factor in the horrible bloody war in the Congo. Go to youtube – I think you will find the documentary if you search “coltan” and “Congo” .

    But I bought it because I figured I would access the internet for as long as I could. Think about it. Some day you will reach the point where you (Sharon and any and all of us) will come to this blog and say, “Bye people, this will be my last post – good luck.”

  14. sealanderon 30 Jul 2009 at 4:06 pm

    I read somewhere recently that currently the Internet accounts for around 5% of world energy usage – I’m assuming that just covers the systems required to keep the Internet going, and not the energy used by computers just accessing the Internet.
    Just keeping a search engine like Google running requires banks of thousands of computers. Every day some of these computers suffer hardware failures and are pulled out and replaced. You’ve got to wonder how long something like that can keep going when energy prices rise……..
    I’d urge you all to fight to maintain funding for your local library – let those services be run down or cut altogether now and you may find they’re no longer there when they’re desperately needed in the future.

  15. Berkshireon 30 Jul 2009 at 6:05 pm

    I attend every used book sale I can find so I can add to my “in house” library. I’ve put away several hundred books at give away prices. You never run out of topics – from permaculture to high school trig. The trig in case our educational system swoons before my grand son makes it through high school in 9 years.

    Another thought. It might be time to set our computer folks to work on a low speed, low cost and micro power computer that could survive for 50 or 100 years. The internet might survive as text at 300 baud on copper phone lines with a small solar PV power source.

    The imbedded energy and system operating energy would be tiny with a forever computer and low speed text servers. Passing pictures and videos of the grand kids is a bandwidth and energy hog.

    A lot of good engineering was accomplished at those communication speeds on the early dial up services. We know enough to freeze the survival communication and system protocols now so we don’t loose the magic of centralized data storage. Change is not always a good thing in long lived systems. We don’t need obsolete.

    The blog you are reading now would do just fine at 300 baud. You wouldn’t know the difference and Sharon wouldn’t have to retire when the lights dim a little.

  16. Tammy and Parkeron 30 Jul 2009 at 8:10 pm

    If Cap and Trade is passed, Utah will be facing this situation sooner rather than later.

    Utah produces it’s electricity mainly via coal.

    California gets it’s electricity (and soon a lot of it’s water! as though Utah has water to spare) from Utah.

    But Utah will pay the cap and trade.

    According to Sen. Orrin Hatch our electricity bills will go up approx. 70%.

    I used to think my husband was a tad bit nuts for cutting our budgets down to the bare bone minimum so we can pay off debt as quickly as possible.

    Now I’m thinking more along the lines of genius.

  17. Karenon 30 Jul 2009 at 8:43 pm

    I have feared and seen that this internet blip on our radar will not last. This has been one of those spactacular moments in history where anyone with access to a computer could communicate with anyone else. When I found out about peak oil and energy resources, a light bulb went on and all of a sudden the world made sense. All the prosperity and easy living of the last hundred years made sense. But I also knew that I would not know this if it was not for the internet. I may be able to get my hands on a book or two but to be able to do the kind of comprehensive research I have done for the last 3 years, I appreciate as amazing. No one before 10 years ago had access to so many peoples thoughts. Now it begins to decline and go back to the way things were or worse– the dark ages. Because of that I have been buying books, as many as I can get my hands on that are worthwhile. The subjects are broad. I know that the paper will only be good for 50 – 100 years at most but it is a start. The monastaries in Ireland preserved some materials from the dark ages. You never know who or where that next monastary will be.

  18. Dwigon 30 Jul 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I’m with Berkshire on this. Many posts are written with the apparent assumption that it’s today’s Internet or nothing. In fact, the Internet has a long history, with ancestors such as the ham radio network (Greer did a nice post on that, describing his own experience getting a ham license) and Fidonet. There may be some good opportunities to make history rhyme in this area.

    If we can find a way to create low energy computational devices (manufacture and use), we may be able to sustain a global communications network for some time yet.

  19. Ilargion 30 Jul 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Sharon, I’ll read the piece, but I have to point out that this line is definitely not true:
    “An old-fashioned car uses many times more energy during its lifetime (burning gasoline) than during its manufacture.”

    It’s been years, and I’d have to really dig, but I do remember a study that says at least one third of all pollution a car produces in its lifetime comes before it hits the showroom. Pollution and energy, in this regard, would seem to be exchangeable. So it’s certainly not “many times”, as the author implies, but perhaps 2x. That is, of course, if you include ALL steps in the production process.

    You be a good girl now, y’hear?

  20. Tomon 31 Jul 2009 at 6:59 am

    From a pragmatic perspective I agree with much of the projections for the internet. However, seeing as the internet is basically a hyper advanced version of two cups connected together by a bit of string we do have quite a few options to keep it going (as long as we can still get to the bits of string and can keep make sure the cups don’t break beyond repair!).

    The assumption is being made that we need centralised services like Yahoo! – and hats exactly what they want us to think. I was talking with a non-technique but very aware friend the other day and they said “the internet all comes from America, doesn’t it?” and I realised how common this perception was. The internet – and servers in particular – are just computers too. The PC you are reading this on can be a server – it can send and receive information and it can store information for others to access if you let them. When five computers are connected together in a “network” we have made a mini-web. When we plug that “network” in to another “network” we have made the web bigger. We are still “internetting” even if we do not dial in to a server over the pond.

    I read somewhere – and have no idea if it is true or not – that the internet was created by a guy who plugged his laptop in to the mains in a college somewhere and realised by some fluke that his computer was, via the mains (yes, internet can flow through the electric rings in your house) to a vending machine in the corridor. He could see the CPU in the vending machine, affect it and make it spit out a bar of chocolate when people walked by it. Thus – one computer was connected to another and the internet was born.

    Whilst the hardware that has got smarter and smarter, smaller and smaller, and faster and faster so too has the software that makes use of the hardware. Software kind of strives in the opposite direction to hardware – always seeing to need less and less of the available hardware capability. The lighter and simpler the software the better in many respects. Well… that’s the theory anyway. Cause the other place we are operating under an illusion (like the one that says we need centralised hardware) is in Windows.

    Microsoft was born out of Unix like code – Unix being an opensource project http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unix and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source- and Gates capitalised it and protected the IP. So, it had to be developed in house, protected and hidden from anyone who wanted to develop the code themselves. Building in all this protection and tomfoolery makes the programs very heavy – conveniently justifies the need to buy a new computer with the next multiple of 10Gb hard drive and generally distances the users from the simplicity of basic operating systems. There are many loads of other operating systems that are far far lighter weight and come with no trademark restrictions born of the Open Source movement and based on the original Unix ideas – Linux being a major development that has achieved great things – indeed, there is even a superb opensource version of Microsoft office (Word, Excel etc) called OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org/ – if you don’t already use it I recommend it). This movement is diametrically opposed to the Gates/Microsoft model of protecting the code and IP… rather freeiing up everything to whoever is interested and allowing community to develop software. For Gates the need to protect the software and collude with the manufacturers of the hardware has resulted in a intellectually false demand bubble for consumer access to both hardware and software. Its a bit like average Joe need a car and buying a Lotus Elise cause that’s what he needs – well… thinking about it, maybe exactly the same thing has happened in the car market. People really don’t need 4×4’s to drive down the Kings Road… but that’s a different topic.

    So, for the things that we really need computers for – emails and sharing text (I know pics too, but entertain me) – there really isn’t a need for all the hype. Computers that were being built as long ago as 10 years, if installed with the right software (of course that’s another thing – you struggle to get old versions of windows to run on old machines – “just buy a new one – its a lot easier”… never mind the environmental costs of that new one!), can do all the things we want them to do. And there are MILLIONS of these old machines kicking about – check out http://www.jamies.org.uk – go there… see the mountain of dead computers…

    So if we use the right software and we can use all the trillions of bits of hardware that we have already made – that means we don’t have to produce more chips and PC’s (sounds more like the car market as I go along) – and software being made freely and openly available by the opensource community. Indeed, it is on these machines with hyperlight operating systems that computers are being sent to places like Africa to get them online…

    That starts to address the cups in my analogy. Hacking back to my earlier point about my computer connecting to another computer and making a web is where we can find the next piece of the puzzle. Do you remember Naptster? The illegal music sharing site? Well… out of the black market emerges a white night. File sharing. Or, as the process is now commonly known, BitTorrent. Without accessing a single centralised server, individual PC’s can share data with one another – in some cases massive files – by storing little bits on lots of different machines – and then allowing software to organise the recollection of those files assuming the people with the information on their machines gives the individual access. This is using the internet as the platform – as opposed to what is happening at the moment where the platforms are bits of software held centrally and individuals access the internet and use them as instead of the net itself. Its because there are many PC’s – and a lot of them are on – but with successful micro generation, the internet could be a massive web of micro networks that exists because they are all on – not because there is some central source keeping the music playing. I am reminded of my good friend Rob Weston’s theory of Organismics… it is the point when the sum of the parts transcends and becomes a whole, and thus doing so becomes greater than it was before. More info about BitTorrent here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BitTorrent_protocol – (note – as of Feb 09 BitTorrent accounted for between 27-55% of all internet traffic!!!!!!!!!!!)

    Really I have to get on with some work now… and I know I have not accounted for the string yet. But, in short, we will have to have some form of energy to power all that. Its not like there aren’t cables running in to my house that I can trace all the way back to your house and so on and so on. Thanks, BT (and the original electricity firms).

    By way of conclusion – I can’t see the internet getting stubbed out. It will just change shape. It will be more like the tables at the back of the FT – lots of less pretty pictures (equating a pretty picture on the internet to a CO2 cost suddenly feels quite weird) and lots more tables and more careful decisions about what you do and don’t bother to access – the flippant web user will be forced to be far more discerning, choosing carefully what they bother to access. We will have lost nothing but the massive amount of pointless activity that takes place on the web… some might say a blessing in disguise.

  21. Chrison 31 Jul 2009 at 10:30 am

    Excellent article, and thanks for linking to _The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged, Either_. In our use of the Internet we have a choice similar to the one peak oil gives us: do we continue the status quo until it collapses altogether, or do we use what time we have left online to prepare for the time after it? Communities of like-minded people existed before the ‘net and will surely spring up after it. We probably have few years to find and restore a manual typewriter, improve our handwriting and trade postal addresses with online friends. And while it lasts, we can use the ‘net to look at how other societies like the American Philosophical Society and punk rockers used the means of communications available to them.

    (Alas there is no preview button, so here’s hoping that the links work)

  22. Sandy Barringeron 31 Jul 2009 at 10:47 am

    Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times?
    My answer: NO.
    Internet access by a lot more people than you first think, will be the first thing to be chucked in favor of paying for the essentials: food, shelter, clothing. When hyperinflation hits………figure it out.
    And take note that the U.S. gov is getting paranoid about cyber-warfare attacks on their systems and I foresee the gov shutting down access to the internet by everyone except gov services. Or, quite possibly, the gov will make laws making it so expensive to pay for internet services, that very few will be able to pay.
    I have seen this coming for a while, and have made a serious and continuing effort to develop local resources such as neighborhood groups, friendships with local people who I know I will be depending upon, and they upon me, in the future for support in many areas.
    Believe it or not, that dummie next door has a wealth of knowledge you never dreamed he/she knew about that will be vital to future survival.
    Especially older people; they still know the old ways. And this contempt that the young now demonstrate toward the old, will quickly be replaced with respect. “The old farts know how to teach us to live without all the modern goodies! Geez, and we put them into old folk’s home (death-waiting warehouses)!”

  23. Sharonon 31 Jul 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Ilargi, I’ll be curious to see what you find – the figures I’ve seen suggested 4-5 times, maybe making “many” a bit of an exaggeration, but not out of line. Let me know what you find and I’ll look around too – I’ll post a note if it is wrong.


  24. EJon 31 Jul 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Energy required to manufacture typical vehicle:

  25. PKon 01 Aug 2009 at 8:32 am

    Good post!

    I recently worked in a smal rural library. The first thing I asked was “How are we funded?”

    Operations were paid for by the city and the county as we were the ONLY public library in the county.

    Everything else came from grants. The head librarian was a crotchety old broad but she worked hard to get grants for stuff like computers and expansion of the building.

    Unfortunately not much went for books. Practically the only books that were puchased were the top 10 NYT best sellers. Everything else was donated to the library by the patrons. We had romance novels, western fiction, mysteries, and christian fiction out the wazoo but really good reference books were rare and/or outdated and most were for library use only.

    I probably have a better collection of how-to books for actual low tech skills than the library since I have been collecting them or decades. It’s really surprizing how few good ones there are out there since most now assume access to a well stocked hard ware store and power tools.

    John Michael Greer called books and “old technology” and they can be reproduced even under primitive conditions if they are important enough. They did it by hand during the middle-ages. Paper is actually pretty easy to make. I don’t think (hope) that we will fall back that far, but it is food for thought.

  26. Katon 02 Aug 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I live in Ohio, and Gov. Strickland has already proposed cutting our library funding to the bone. So many people protested that they have come up with an alternative plan temporarily. (Very temporarily, from what my librarian tells me). The money simply is not there to sustain all of the state’s needs.

  27. Lori Scotton 03 Aug 2009 at 12:50 am

    Our libraries have been scoured of books, due to the funds being spent on computer resources. I find this to be such a bad policy but it is cost cutting for hard hit councils.

    I also have a problem with info on the net. I know there are lots of wonderful informative sites but if I was to publish a non-fiction book or article, I’m expected to site references and submit to peer review etc. I can’t even guarantee finding the same site twice on two days let alone being absolutely convinced that the information is reliable.

    Its fun for chatting but so are socials.

  28. Anna Marieon 03 Aug 2009 at 2:08 am

    At present, I’m editing a volume of seventeenth-century letters for a university press; the letters are from and to a physician and natural historian, and there are 1145 of them. I wonder if we’d be able to do the same project a few hundred years from now for a 21st-century thinker. As a historian, I do worry a bit that all our emails/electronic data will disappear, leaving this era of history a blank wall. Vellum lasts, pixels don’t.

  29. B. Minichon 03 Aug 2009 at 9:47 am

    I’ve wondered about this myself. My thought tends to be that, bar a catastrophe that knocks the entire grid itself out for weeks, the internet will survive – it’ll be our access that doesn’t. The internet was designed to be massively redundant – basically, the protocols were built to survive a nuclear attack. It will route around problems as long as they aren’t completely catastrophic. We will lose information on the internet, but the network is as robust as they come. The more likely way to lose it is to have the world lose out on access to it, the internet becoming the enclave of the rich and elite.

  30. Peter Shieldon 06 Aug 2009 at 12:23 pm

    The real issue is how knowledge in a more productive, hands on, society is stored, collated and defused. If we just take the three Rs, Reuse, Recycle, Repair as the basic skill set, let alone grow your own, create your own power then the limits of the internet as a teaching tool rather than a defuser of news and views spring up.

    To learn practical skills, requires a hand on, here’s the idea, here’s a demonstration, right your turn sort of approach. I wouldn’t dream of using a chainsaw without having the range of safety, and other forestry skills explained to me, a skilled person showing me what to do, then watching me and correcting all my errors.

    Yep afterwards if I had small questions I might poise them in a forum online, and equally I would not respond to a question poised online unless I had actual experience.

    Equally a course in say, advanced forestry management, couldn’t possibly teach me all I want to know, books, online forums, and most importantly working alongside others would provide the collective group wisdom in much more practical ways.

    What the internet has given us is an illusion of wisdom, a one flake thick covering of apparent knowledge, a dangerous confidence when playing with power tools!

    To develop the depth of skills a low carbon sustainable economy needs then we have to go back to a pre-digital age and look at personal training like apprenticeships – longer term on the ‘job’ training that develop a depth of knowledge that maximizes the individual and groups effectiveness. Low carbon living and working means the individual and group/community has to be more effective at what they do as the short cuts of instant and cheap power are no longer available at the flick of a switch.

    To achieve that level of efficiency in most practical skills there is not a keyboard in sight.

    Oh an yeah The internet, as has been said here is in little danger of disappearing. It is mightily robust, will an inbuilt adaptation to harsh circumstances, nuclear war being its original ARPA defined catastrophe . As fossil fuel costs mount then renewables become more economical, and the design of much more energy efficient server farms, as well as individual PCs.

  31. [...] good example of unthinkable change is Sharon Astyk’s excellent post Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times? It makes points that will seem ridiculous to some: I think the assumption that we are making, that [...]

  32. [...] digital technology, by Kris De Decker. * The End of the Information Age, by John Michael Greer. * Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times?, by Sharon Astyk (which draws heavily from the two articles [...]

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