Can we live without the internet?

The 21st Century essentials: food, water and wifi

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

I love the internet and use it every day. I am also convinced that everyone I know uses the internet every day – and not just every day, but almost all day every day.

Love it or hate it, we have all become more enmeshed in the internet than any of us could have imagined just a few years ago.

Privacy – at any level is long gone. All of our personal history, from academic records to health documents are available to almost anyone who wants them.

Sometimes the intrusion is so intense that I fantasize about living off-grid on some island or isolated community. But then I go for part of a day without internet access – and then I realize how dependent I have become.

If you think you can survive without the internet, consider these aspects of life without it.

Use GPS? So do UPS, FedEx, UBER, taxi drivers, pizza deliverers and just about everyone else who drives a vehicle. You have probably noticed that few people under 35 or so have any sense of direction. They just follow the directions GPS gives them. They would be literally lost without the internet.

Even closer to the vital organs of nearly all of us is our beloved cellphone. Our phones use cell towers which use cell signals that come from satellites in the air, which ping off of other satellites in order to operate.

Anything around the world that uses any form of cell service or similar satellite technology that accesses the internet to operate would also be out of commission. This could become a worldwide panic for teenagers – and bankers, politicians, military and other users.

Could anyone of us imagine a return to land lines? A phone literally tied to a specific location (especially a residence) seems odd to us now, but it made sense at the time.

Without GPS systems, ships and planes can still operate. People can work off of compasses, if anyone knows how. Complications may arise when trying to contact shipping yards and airports – or anyone, in fact.

Short wave and Ham radio just might, like vinyl records, emerge from the past as a resilient and reliable means of communications.

The demise of the internet would also be the end of online shopping. We might actually begin to appreciate printed paper catalogs and those flyers that we get in the mail and immediately toss.

We’d also see the return of the local Post Office as a center of communications – and maybe even the return of correspondence (that’s an archaic word for a form of written communications on paper, leaving behind a document of experiences and challenges).

Without the internet, the largest companies in the world – Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook – and a thousand others – would evaporate almost over night.

Email, losing audience by the day already, would disappear. We’d have to go back to printing letters on paper, using postage and waiting for a response of several days at minimum. Or maybe even pick up that land line.

Social media, that flickering interface that unites (and divides) us all – Twitter, Instagram, and all the rest would be gone.

We’d be driven to extremes like actually talking to people IRL (in real life). Think we will be able to do it?

What about streaming?

Yes, I know that this is a bit personal, but streaming would be gone. No Netflix. No Spotify. No Pandora. And that new Disney service? Gone.

DVDs would return as would Blockbuster and independent, specialized video stores. And Redbox would continue.

We’d go to movie theaters and see movies with a crowd.

Compact discs would become popular again. Music listeners might actually enjoy hearing songs on entire albums with notes, art or credits on each album.  And rediscover sound quality.

Cash would return. Banks would be as busy as they are deserted now. We would handle actual paper money – and checks (remember them?) would return.

Without online shopping we might discover the unexpected delights of locally owned and curated shops.  Photo: Morf Morford
Without online shopping we might discover the unexpected delights of locally owned and curated shops. Photo: Morf Morford

Manufacturers and companies use real-time data to stop production, increase it, or keep it the same depending on reactions to emerging online trends, rumor or news.

Without immediate monitoring, every business would have a far harder time keeping track of what is (and isn’t) selling.

For better or worse, the ever present security cameras would cease monitoring our every move, purchase and conversation.

Our medical records – even our academic, professional or criminal  documentation – would be gone.

Anyone remember fax machines? They operate through phone lines and don’t need the internet.

Along with fax machines, we’d see a return of journalism and daily newspapers.

Printed documents take more time, have more editorial input and leave a permanent record of any deception or bias. Unlike internet memes, newspapers and journals have sources and live or die based on their credibility.

Online classes and employment – in fact anything with a website – will go down.

Online “communities” – like gaming and discussion groups will collapse. No more staring into screens all night and cursing at strangers.

Libraries and bookstores will return – and they will be busy. People will read physical books in public without shame. People may even get together to talk about favorite readings. Book clubs or reading (maybe even writing!)  groups might emerge.

The pace of life would slow down. We might actually talk to each other. We might not travel as far or as fast, but we might get to know our neighbors.

We would see a new appreciation of broadcast radio and television. We would have a return to the experience of all seeing or hearing something at the same time.

The stock market would falter, at least at first. Once it stabilized though, I am convinced that, free of the relentless 24/7 news cycle and the flood of viral (and often false) news stories, the stock market could focus on business and economic news instead of rumors and hysteria.

Education might matter again. Without search engines, individually held bodies of skill and knowledge will become more important than ever.

Wisdom and insight just might be valued again….

Some of us are old enough to remember life before the internet. Yes, it was simpler, safer and required a level of understanding and a base of practical knowledge that seems incomprehensible now.

But we also know that nothing lasts forever. The gold rush of the internet has created unimaginable fortunes but has not made us stronger, healthier, more resourceful or more connected with each other.

The internet has allowed us to become more shrill, partisan and anonymous. It has clearly not brought out the best in us.

Losing the internet would be a tremendous shock, but we might discover who we really are IRL.