Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Death of the Internet: A Pre-Mortem

The mythic role assigned to progress in today’s popular culture has any number of odd effects, but one of the strangest is the blindness to the downside that clamps down on the collective imagination of our time once people become convinced that something or other is the wave of the future. It doesn’t matter in the least how many or obvious the warning signs are, or how many times the same tawdry drama has been enacted.  Once some shiny new gimmick gets accepted as the next glorious step in the invincible march of progress, most people lose the ability to imagine that the wave of the future might just do what waves generally do: that is to say, crest, break, and flow back out to sea, leaving debris scattered on the beach in its wake.

It so happens that I grew up in the middle of just such a temporary wave of the future, in the south Seattle suburbs in the 1960s, where every third breadwinner worked for Boeing. The wave in question was the supersonic transport, SST for short: a jetliner that would fly faster than sound, cutting hours off long flights. The inevitability of the SST was an article of faith locally, and not just because Boeing was building one; an Anglo-French consortium was in the lead with the Concorde, and the Soviets were working on the Tu-144, but the Boeing 2707 was expected to be the biggest and baddest of them all, a 300-seat swing-wing plane that was going to make commercial supersonic flight an everyday reality.

Long before the 2707 had even the most ghostly sort of reality, you could buy model kits of the plane, complete with Pan Am decals, at every hobby store in the greater Seattle area. For that matter, take Interstate 5 south from downtown Seattle past the sprawling Boeing plant just outside of town, and you’d see the image of the 2707 on the wall of one of the huge assembly buildings, a big delta-winged shape in white and gold winging its way through the imagined air toward the gleaming future in which so many people believed back then.

There was, as it happened, a small problem with the 2707, a problem it shared with all the other SST projects; it made no economic sense at all. It was, to be precise, what an earlier post here called  a subsidy dumpster: that is, a project that was technically feasible but economically impractical, and existed mostly as a way to pump government subsidies into Boeing’s coffers. Come 1971, the well ran dry: faced with gloomy numbers from the economists, worried calculations from environmental scientists, and a public not exactly enthusiastic about dozens of sonic booms a day rattling plates and cracking windows around major airports, Congress cut the project’s funding.

That happened right when the US economy generally, and the notoriously cyclical airplane industry in particular, were hitting downturns. Boeing was Seattle’s biggest employer in those days, and when it laid off employees en masse, the result was a local depression of legendary severity. You heard a lot of people in those days insisting that the US had missed out on the next aviation boom, and Congress would have to hang its head in shame once Concordes and Tu-144s were hauling passengers all over the globe. Of course that’s not what happened; the Tu-144 flew a handful of commercial flights and then was grounded for safety reasons, and the Concorde lingered on, a technical triumph but an economic white elephant, until the last plane retired from service in 2003.

All this has been on my mind of late as I’ve considered the future of the internet. The comparison may seem far-fetched, but then that’s what supporters of the SST would have said if anyone had compared the Boeing 2707 to, say, the zeppelin, another wave of the future that turned out to make too little economic sense to matter. Granted, the internet isn’t a subsidy dumpster, and it’s also much more complex than the SST; if anything, it might be compared to the entire system of commercial air travel, which we still have with us or the moment. Nonetheless, a strong case can be made that the internet, like the SST, doesn’t actually make economic sense; it’s being propped up by a set of financial gimmickry with a distinct resemblance to smoke and mirrors; and when those go away—and they will—much of what makes the internet so central a part of pop culture will go away as well.

It’s probably necessary to repeat here that the reasons for this are economic, not technical. Every time I’ve discussed the hard economic realities that make the internet’s lifespan in the deindustrial age  roughly that of a snowball in Beelzebub’s back yard, I’ve gotten a flurry of responses fixating on purely  technical issues. Those issues are beside the point.  No doubt it would be possible to make something like the internet technically feasible in a society on the far side of the Long Descent, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that the internet has to cover its operating costs, and it also has to compete with other ways of doing the things that the internet currently does.

It’s a source of wry amusement to me that so many people seem to have forgotten that the internet doesn’t actually do very much that’s new. Long before the internet, people were reading the news, publishing essays and stories, navigating through unfamiliar neighborhoods, sharing photos of kittens with their friends, ordering products from faraway stores for home delivery, looking at pictures of people with their clothes off, sending anonymous hate-filled messages to unsuspecting recipients, and doing pretty much everything else that they do on the internet today. For the moment, doing these things on the internet is cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives, and that’s what makes the internet so popular. If that changes—if the internet becomes more costly and less convenient than other options—its current popularity is unlikely to last.

Let’s start by looking at the costs. Every time I’ve mentioned the future of the internet on this blog, I’ve gotten comments and emails from readers who think that the price of their monthly internet service is a reasonable measure of the cost of the internet as a whole. For a useful corrective to this delusion, talk to people who work in data centers. You’ll hear about trucks pulling up to the loading dock every single day to offload pallet after pallet of brand new hard drives and other components, to replace those that will burn out that same day. You’ll hear about power bills that would easily cover the electricity costs of a small city. You’ll hear about many other costs as well. Data centers are not cheap to run, there are many thousands of them, and they’re only one part of the vast infrastructure we call the internet: by many measures, the most gargantuan technological project in the history of our species.

Your monthly fee for internet service covers only a small portion of what the internet costs. Where does the rest come from? That depends on which part of the net we’re discussing. The basic structure is paid for by internet service providers (ISPs), who recoup part of the costs from your monthly fee, part from the much larger fees paid by big users, and part by advertising. Content providers use some mix of advertising, pay-to-play service fees, sales of goods and services, packaging and selling your personal data to advertisers and government agencies, and new money from investors and loans to meet their costs. The ISPs routinely make a modest profit on the deal, but many of the content providers do not. Amazon may be the biggest retailer on the planet, for example, and its cash flow has soared in recent years, but its expenses have risen just as fast, and it rarely makes a profit. Many other content provider firms, including fish as big as Twitter, rack up big losses year after year.

How do they stay in business? A combination of vast amounts of investment money and ultracheap debt. That’s very common in the early decades of a new industry, though it’s been made a good deal easier by the Fed’s policy of next-to-zero interest rates. Investors who dream of buying stock in the next Microsoft provide venture capital for internet startups, banks provide lines of credit for existing firms, the stock and bond markets snap up paper of various kinds churned out by internet businesses, and all that money goes to pay the bills. It’s a reasonable gamble for the investors; they know perfectly well that a great many of the firms they’re funding will go belly up within a few years, but the few that don’t will either be bought up at inflated prices by one of the big dogs of the online world, or will figure out how to make money and then become big dogs themselves.

Notice, though, that this process has an unexpected benefit for ordinary internet users: a great many services are available for free, because venture-capital investors and lines of credit are footing the bill for the time being. Boosting the number of page views and clickthroughs is far more important for the future of an internet company these days than making a profit, and so the usual business plan is to provide plenty of free goodies to the public without worrying about the financial end of things. That’s very convenient just now for internet users, but it fosters the illusion that the internet costs nothing.

As mentioned earlier, this sort of thing is very common in the early decades of a new industry. As the industry matures, markets become saturated, startups become considerably riskier, and venture capital heads for greener pastures.  Once this happens, the companies that dominate the industry have to stay in business the old-fashioned way, by earning a profit, and that means charging as much as the market will bear, monetizing services that are currently free, and cutting service to the lowest level that customers will tolerate. That’s business as usual, and it means the end of most of the noncommercial content that gives the internet so much of its current role in popular culture.

All other things being equal, in other words, the internet can be expected to follow the usual trajectory of a maturing industry, becoming more expensive, less convenient, and more tightly focused on making a quick buck with each passing year. Governments have already begun to tax internet sales, removing one of the core “stealth subsidies” that boosted the internet at the expense of other retail sectors, and taxation of the internet will only increase as cash-starved officials contemplate the tidal waves of money sloshing back and forth online. None of these changes will kill the internet, but they’ll slap limits on the more utopian fantasies currently burbling about the web, and provide major incentives for individuals and businesses to back away from the internet and do things in the real world instead.

Then there’s the increasingly murky world of online crime, espionage, and warfare, which promises to push very hard in the same direction in the years ahead.  I think most people are starting to realize that on the internet, there’s no such thing as secure data, and the costs of conducting business online these days include a growing risk of having your credit cards stolen, your bank accounts looted, your identity borrowed for any number of dubious purposes, and the files on your computer encrypted without your knowledge, so that you can be forced to pay a ransom for their release—this latter, or so I’ve read, is the latest hot new trend in internet crime.

Online crime is one of the few fields of criminal endeavor in which raw cleverness is all you need to make out, as the saying goes, like a bandit. In the years ahead, as a result, the internet may look less like an information superhighway and more like one of those grim inner city streets where not even the muggers go alone. Trends in online espionage and warfare are harder to track, but either or both could become a serious burden on the internet as well.

Online crime, espionage, and warfare aren’t going to kill the internet, any more than the ordinary maturing of the industry will. Rather, they’ll lead to a future in which costs of being online are very often greater than the benefits, and the internet is by and large endured rather than enjoyed. They’ll also help drive the inevitable rebound away from the net. That’s one of those things that always happens and always blindsides the cheerleaders of the latest technology: a few decades into its lifespan, people start to realize that they liked the old technology better, thank you very much, and go back to it. The rebound away from the internet has already begun, and will only become more visible as time goes on, making a great many claims about the future of the internet look as absurd as those 1950s articles insisting that in the future, every restaurant would inevitably be a drive-in.

To be sure, the resurgence of live theater in the wake of the golden age of movie theaters didn’t end cinema, and the revival of bicycling in the aftermath of the automobile didn’t make cars go away. In the same way, the renewal of interest in offline practices and technologies isn’t going to make the internet go away. It’s simply going to accelerate the shift of avant-garde culture away from an increasingly bleak, bland, unsafe, and corporate- and government-controlled internet and into alternative venues. That won’t kill the internet, though once again it will put a stone marked R.I.P. atop the grave of a lot of the utopian fantasies that have clustered around today’s net culture.

All other things being equal, in fact, there’s no reason why the internet couldn’t keep on its present course for years to come. Under those circumstances, it would shed most of the features that make it popular with today’s avant-garde, and become one more centralized, regulated, vacuous mass medium, packed to the bursting point with corporate advertising and lowest-common-denominator content, with dissenting voices and alternative culture shut out or shoved into corners where nobody ever looks. That’s the normal trajectory of an information technology in today’s industrial civilization, after all; it’s what happened with radio and television in their day, as the gaudy and grandiose claims of the early years gave way to the crass commercial realities of the mature forms of each medium.

But all other things aren’t equal.

Radio and television, like most of the other familiar technologies that define life in a modern industrial society, were born and grew to maturity in an expanding economy. The internet, by contrast, was born during the last great blowoff of the petroleum age—the last decades of the twentieth century, during which the world’s industrial nations took the oil reserves that might have cushioned the transition to sustainability, and blew them instead on one last orgy of over-the-top conspicuous consumption—and it’s coming to maturity in the early years of an age of economic contraction and ecological blowback.

The rising prices, falling service quality, and relentless monetization of a maturing industry, together with the increasing burden of online crime and the inevitable rebound away from internet culture, will thus be hitting the internet in a time when the global economy no longer has the slack it once did, and the immense costs of running the internet in anything like its present form will have to be drawn from a pool of real wealth that has many other demands on it. What’s more, quite a few of those other demands will be far more urgent than the need to provide consumers with a convenient way to send pictures of kittens to their friends. That stark reality will add to the pressure to monetize internet services, and provide incentives to those who choose to send their kitten pictures by other means.

It’s crucial to remember here, as noted above, that the internet is simply a cheaper and more convenient way of doing things that people were doing long before the first website went live, and a big part of the reason why it’s cheaper and more convenient right now is that internet users are being subsidized by the investors and venture capitalists who are funding the internet industry. That’s not the only subsidy on which the internet depends, though. Along with the rest of industrial society, it’s also subsidized by half a billion years of concentrated solar energy in the form of fossil fuels.  As those deplete, the vast inputs of energy, labor, raw materials, industrial products, and other forms of wealth that sustain the internet will become increasingly expensive to provide, and ways of distributing kitten pictures that don’t require the same inputs will prosper in the resulting competition.

There are also crucial issues of scale. Most pre-internet communications and information technologies scale down extremely well. A community of relatively modest size can have its own public library, its own small press, its own newspaper, and its own radio station running local programming, and could conceivably keep all of these functioning and useful even if the rest of humanity suddenly vanished from the map. Internet technology doesn’t have that advantage. It’s orders of magnitude more complex and expensive than a radio transmitter, not to mention the 14th-century technology of printing presses and card catalogs; what’s more, on the scale of a small community, the benefits of using internet technology instead of simpler equivalents wouldn’t come close to justifying the vast additional cost.

Now of course the world of the future isn’t going to consist of a single community surrounded by desolate wasteland. That’s one of the reasons why the demise of the internet won’t happen all at once. Telecommunications companies serving some of the more impoverished parts of rural America are already letting their networks in those areas degrade, since income from customers doesn’t cover the costs of maintenance.  To my mind, that’s a harbinger of the internet’s future—a future of uneven decline punctuated by local and regional breakdowns, some of which will be fixed for a while.

That said, it’s quite possible that there will still be an internet of some sort fifty years from now. It will connect government agencies, military units, defense contractors, and the handful of universities that survive the approaching implosion of the academic industry here in the US, and it may provide email and a few other services to the very rich, but it will otherwise have a lot more in common with the original DARPAnet than with the 24/7 virtual cosmos imagined by today’s more gullible netheads.

Unless you’re one of the very rich or an employee of one of the institutions just named, furthermore, you won’t have access to the internet of 2065.  You might be able to hack into it, if you have the necessary skills and are willing to risk a long stint in a labor camp, but unless you’re a criminal or a spy working for the insurgencies flaring in the South or the mountain West, there’s not much point to the stunt. If you’re like most Americans in 2065, you live in Third World conditions without regular access to electricity or running water, and you’ve got other ways to buy things, find out what’s going on in the world, find out how to get to the next town and, yes, look at pictures of people with their clothes off. What’s more, in a deindustrializing world, those other ways of doing things will be cheaper, more resilient, and more useful than reliance on the baroque intricacies of a vast computer net.

Exactly when the last vestiges of the internet will sputter to silence is a harder question to answer. Long before that happens, though, it will have lost its current role as one of the poster children of the myth of perpetual progress, and turned back into what it really was all the time: a preposterously complex way to do things most people have always done by much simpler means, which only seemed to make sense during that very brief interval of human history when fossil fuels were abundant and cheap.

In other news, I’m pleased to announce that the third anthology of deindustrial SF stories from this blog’s “Space Bats” contest, After Oil 3: The Years of Rebirth, is now available in print and e-book formats. Those of my readers who’ve turned the pages of the two previous After Oil anthologies already know that this one has a dozen eminently readable and thought-provoking stories about the world on the far side of the Petroleum Age; the rest of you—why, you’re in for a treat. Those who are interested in contributing to the next After Oil anthology will find the details here.


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William Knight said...

As a computer fiend I was looking forward to this post, and appreciate and agree with some of the things you've said. However I think your general thesis would fit better if you qualified your subject to the 'Consumer' portion of the Internet, typically involving individuals using it for personal information, entertainment and other non-business activities.

A huge part of the Internet consists of business-related communication infrastructure, and much of this has an entirely different set of economic constraints from the consumer part.

We are also seeing an extremely recent and rapid emergence of a new part of the Internet associated with embedded computers, commonly referred to as the 'Internet of Things'. This is also quite different in purpose and function from the consumer and business parts, and receives little or no consideration in your post.

Again, I'm in general agreement with your long term analysis of the decline of fossil-fueled industrial civilization, but as long as there will be large numbers of computing devices in the world, they will be linked together in diverse communication networks that will be described collectively as 'the Internet'.

Yucca Glauca said...

>>That said, it’s quite possible that there will still be an internet of some sort fifty years from now.

How sad! I had hoped to outlive the internet. Maybe I still will, if I can manage to live what counted as a normal lifespan pre-peak.

In any case, I'll just have to be satisfied with using my, "What was the internet like? Nothing of value was lost," line whenever there are children around who grew up without the internet and are old enough to ask about it, regardless of whether or not there's technically still an internet hiding in military bases and academic institutions.

jean-vivien said...

thought you had to see this - and it's timely too :
maybe it'll inspire you to start your own Archdruidical Ponzi Startup ? "Arch - it will enable you to Druid 200 percent as effectively as you used to"...

Compared to what we read in the news everyday, your posts sound like fairy tales... it hasn't always been that way, a sign of the times maybe ?

Zachary Braverman said...

I think the Internet is a lot like space flight.

You could tell someone after the first moon landing that manned space flight (anywhere other than low-earth orbit) would be very short-lived, and they'd be flabbergasted. They'd tell you all sorts of things, like how technology was just going to get better and allow a glorious future in the solar system.

But, of course, it isn't the technology. We COULD send a human back to the moon. Heck, we could send one to Mars fairly easily if that was a national priority.

But it isn't a national priority, because there's little point, and because it's incredibly expensive.

The Internet is more like this than many people would like to believe, I think.

latheChuck said...

There's another factor involved with the financial support of the Internet, and that's the retirement savings of the Baby Boomers. As they've rolled through their Peak Earnings years, at least a few of them have found ways to live far below their means. They've run up cash surpluses. That cash can't be allowed to just sit there! It's roaming the world, looking for places to be invested. It's reaching for yield, and the demand for safety having driven the interest rates on "guaranteed principal" investment options to unprecedented low values, these Internet businesses seem to find another unit of blood for the IV as quickly as the last was exhausted.
But, of course, these Baby Boomers are shifting from "makers" to "takers". As they retire, they'll be calling in that far-flung equity to support the medical-industrial complex, and their children (and grandchildren) won't be filling the gap.

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

Too many excellent points to comment on here (the venture capital subsidization you speak about had never clicked with me before), but I will respond to this:

"a few decades into its lifespan, people start to realize that they liked the old technology better, thank you very much, and go back to it. The rebound away from the internet has already begun, and will only become more visible as time goes on."

Believe it or not I actually quit the Internet for five years. But wanting to one day get a book out there, being an Internet recluse probably isn't the best idea in this day and age. (Although to be fair, Wendell Berry has never owned a computer, nor has he sent an email in his life – although he did get started writing before such things were around). So I got back on, yours was the first blog I ever read (I'd previously read your books), and eventually started up a blog myself.

But my ability to concentrate and read a book has been shattered, and it's been getting progressively worse. Probably doesn't help that I'm prone to being an info-junkie. I did however just read Janet D's comment from last week's post just a few hours ago, and upon reading the article she linked to, "Why Can't We Read Anymore?," I've realized that although I can't just quit the Internet again – at least not just yet – it's time to set limits and boundaries, lest I be confined to reading your blog and not your books anymore. ;-)

If I can add, upon starting up that blog of mine, I couldn't find a more appropriate way to start it off than with a post questioning not just the Internet's effect on us psychologically, but also its longevity. If you'd like to take a look, it just happens to quote an author with the initials JMG:

Distraction, Surveillance, Peak Oil and the End of the Internet.



Harry J. Lerwill said...

The internet has one property that you did not cover today, but have many times: the Internet is a medium for externalization of costs. It will continue to be subsidized until it cannot, but it is unlikely to be seriously degraded where money is flowing until a lot lower fruit is picked clean.

Take my industry, for example, the Yellow Pages. It's a medium where the advertiser pays for production and distribution, with the consumer paying nothing except a fee to a third party (phone company) when it is used. Compare that with internet advertising. The cost of delivery of production (photons on a screen of some type) and delivery (internet connection) are externalized onto society in general via subsidies, and consumers in particular via energy bills and internet costs. That's two of the biggest costs gone; with artwork processes often off-shored to China, India or the Philippines, you're down to commissions, admin, and profit. Then you are left with a product that helps suck the remaining resources out of the community by discouraging local trade, sales tax evasion, etc.

The company I work for refuses to sell digital products, we've been talked into trials a couple of times, but they haven't shown the ROI for the advertiser, and my employer, a fellow European of our generation, will not compromise his ethics and sell a sub standard product, even though it would be more profitable. We have also discussed at length the fact that we have a product that only needs 19th century technology to work, so is extremely resilient.

That same 19th century technology is all that is needed to maintain some of the most useful aspects of the years of the internet. For example, with the clever application of punched cards, a telegraph, and paper placed around a cylinder on the other end, with a set of colored pens, I could still send you a cute picture of my cat - but at a vastly reduced baud.

Angus Wallace said...


Great post. My immediate reaction is: most of the data sent online is video and bittorrent. About 6% is standard web pages, many of which have "rich" content -- if we went back to a text-based internet, there'd probably be less than 1% current data rates.

But, of course, your point is that such a technological regression wouldn't occur as a considered, logical process that maximises utility (to all) -- it would instead be haphazard, messy and driven by people's ability to pay (ie. online video is maintained for the wealthy while the poor are driven off).

On a side note, I've done some analysis of last summer's rainfall at Adelaide in the historical context (Adelaide, I think, has a similar rainfall amount and pattern to California) that might be interesting to some of your readers. Cherokee Chris put it well when he said it is important for systems to be robust to worst-case scenarios and not just long term averages. My thought is that it would be possible to maintain a dense city in a place like Adelaide, even with climate change effects, but (like the internet above) what remains to be seen is whether we approach this sensibly or in a haphazard free-market manner. In the US, I'd bet on the latter, in Australia I don't know. If course, Adelaide's population is about 1.2 M -- California's is somewhat larger.

Also, I've finally completed the installation of my kitchen solar hot water system, which I'm very happy about.

Cheers, Angus

Cathy McGuire said...

Once again you did a wonderful job of summing up something that is fairly clear if you stop and look at it, but that very few people do. I am often aware of the subsidized nature of my Internet access, because I have been blocked out of some of the sites that are already asking for money, and I know that my budget will not allow me to indulge in the “pay for play” sites. Using Firefox and the add-on Ghostery, I am fortunately able to avoid looking at 98% of the advertising that basically pays for my free access. And I know that that could stop at any time. And, as I am just coming back from losing quite a lot in a computer hard drive crash, I am also aware of the ephemeral nature of what I have. My paper journals are up in the attic, and I can look at them anytime I want (okay, mice got to the 1997 pages). Once I switched to document files for my journals, I can only reread them if I have software that will open that file. (On the one hand, I have saved reams of paper, because most of my rumination isn’t worth printing, but on the other hand I’ve several times almost lost years of journaling). It is another excellent example of first world countries getting so used to having their luxuries subsidized that they have stopped seeing them as luxuries. You mentioned that there are cheaper and more basic ways to do a lot of this, but one of the things I see is that we have dropped most of those and some of it is not recoverable. For example, cell phones versus pay phone booths, libraries that are jettisoning hardcopy in favor of e-books or closing altogether, and the newspapers that are dying because nobody will buy the paper version. As you say, this is the age of declining supplies of cheap power, so our ability to step back and manually reproduce what we are taking for granted on the Internet might be far less than it would have been a couple generations ago. I am building a private library full of how to and reference books, and yet the few days that I was off-line with my computer crashed, I was itching to let the search engines do the hard work for me. And I noticed in my Master Food Preserver classes that the younger women had a huge problem looking up information in the 4 inch thick binders that were our textbook, while those of us middle age and older at least understood the technique. :-) I guess I can only pray that the process will be slow enough that we will be able to recover the old ways of doing some of this without massive trauma. And in that light, I will say that I have two paper copies of my novel, which continues to be posted on, and I will have the paper copies of the green wizards mailing list out in the mail very soon.

rapier said...

I think a good store of value will be found in having an inventory of modern microprocessor based components as things devolve and their manufacture declines. The internet may fail but more local low power communications, machine control and as digital entertainment will thrive for a long time. There will always be so called geeks to cobble systems together as well. Remember much of these things need only a few volts from a bit of sunlight. The internet may not scale down but scaled down networks themselves are a logical certainty.

No timeline for when the investment would best be made nor how long the demand will persist. 10 or 30 years and then the following 100?

An associated topic of interest which will play a large part in the course of deindustrialization is the persistence of mass information storage. Few things will be forgotten for a very long time.

fudoshindotcom said...

I'm not sure if it's because I grew up in a pre-internet world or because I've spent the last three years making a concentrated effort to live a simpler, more self-reliant, sustainable lifestyle, but the impending end of the internet just doesn't seem like a monumental tragedy to me. In fact, it doesn't rate as a tragedy of any scale to my mind. In the life I'm developing for myself it will be the loss of a convenience, nothing more.

Intending no offense at all to JMG, in my opinion there is a very long list of far more discussion-worthy topics.

Doctor Westchester said...

REMINDER: There will a meetup of any Green Wizards and/or readers of JMG’s blog in the lower Hudson Valley of New York State this Sunday, May 3rd starting at 1:00 PM at the Bread & Bottle Bakery & Wine Bar, 7496 South Broadway, Red Hook NY 12571. They have beer as well as wine and good food. If you haven’t already, you can email me at doctorwestchester42 at Google mail if you plan to attend so we can get an accurate count. However, we wouldn’t mind if you just show up without emailing either.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well spoken!

Yes, well the scaled down models of the 2707 were easier to produce and supply because they didn't actually have to fly at supersonic speeds (or at all) and had a willing market probably up to the point at which they then became an object of hate.

Of course, the Internet doesn't do many things new. Mind you, the technology does one thing consistently well: it has the wonderful side effect of consistently getting visitors lost in transit to the farm here. This is despite my advice to ignore what the GPS or smart phone is telling them and simply follow the map which I provide them. It is not hard reading a map, but the wonderful thing about faith in progress, is that despite hearing stories about how others have been lost, and people having a laugh about it, they can still repeat the error and end up lost because they wanted to use the GPS and/or smart phone software and show just how much clever-like they were! It would be funny, if it didn't happen so consistently often.

I wonder if Atilla the Hun ever got lost in his travels? He would have been ruthless enough to simply nab a local guide. He would most certainly get lost these days. hehe!

As to that other bizarre use of the Internet - trolls - John Kenneth Galbraith, received anonymous threats in the mail for his crime of mentioning the truth - as he saw it - in congressional hearings so that sort of thing has a long history - and doesn't actually need to rely on the Internet.

Here's a classic example of the sort of Internet based business that you wrote about. Welcome to the world of Xero the online cloud accounting system provider...

Xero records heavy loss as expansion weighs

Xero shares punished as loss doubles


Cherokee Organics said...

Choice quotes: "its market value stretching beyond $A3 billion despite never posting a profit"

Choice quotes: "signed a deal to work with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey's Square in the US"

Choice quotes: "entry into the US market had been completed successfully and allowed Xero to raise an additional $NZ180 million of capital last October"

The really funny thing is that I reckon I could get pretty close to beating the time required to prepare the accounts for a small business using an online accounting software provider by the very advanced and tricksy technique of utilising a very large and well setup paper based ledger book. It is not like it is hard or even expensive, but many people these days would have no idea how to go about doing that particular task. What do they teach people these days?

The other thing I always worry about is that storing data on the cloud – which I don’t do - means giving your data to a corporation who may have other ideas for using that data than you do.

The interesting thing about re-reading the Great Crash 1929 is that the author described, with no room for uncertainty, how the bankers and establishment proclaimed loudly and in as many venues as possible how the fundamentals of the market and business were sound even when the facts on the ground were such that things were clearly not at all good. And often those reassurances worked - for a while. I reckon a case may be made to apply that sort of experience to the economy and world today. Don’t Panic!

Top work!



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: A water shed moment talking about: Strange clouds that looked like the mothership was about to land - seriously! One of the chickens died and I'm considering redesigning and rebuilding the entire chicken system. The excavations were finally finished and the steel shed started taking shape. I showed more construction stuff with the house - flooring and external cladding. All good stuff and lots of cool photos!

Mark Hines said...

Great post as usual. The slow death of the internet is something that people addicted to smart phones, computer games, twitter, facebook, online bill pay, etc will have a hard time believing or living without. You talk about learning new skills as we move toward a deindustrial future. But I like what you said a few weeks ago about deliberate technological regression.
I have been doing this for a while now. It brings sneers and snickers to my family, But I too grew up in Seattle and remember the dashed technological hopes for the future. I have been reluctant to totally adopt new technology. I use a simple cell phone that is a flip phone that does one thing..make phone calls, I still have and use a land line phone, use a digital camera but am gravitating toward film, and pay my bills by writing a check and mailing them in. These are things everyone did up until just recently, and I believe these are some of the resurrected skills that will be needed in the future. My older teenaged children don't even know how to banlance a checkbook, or even know how much money they have without accessing some computer device. I just look in my checkbook register. So when you talk about learning new skills for systems that weren,t as expensive or cumbersome to maintain, these simple resurrected skills will allow us to do the same thing as the internet.

JimK said...

Another key dynamic behind the dominance of the internet and all things based on microelectronics has been Moore's Law. Rapid advances in technology drives sales, the profits from which drive further advances in technology.

Never mind the various resource crunches we face, the end of Moore's law will slow sales - people will buy a new gadget when the old one is broken - the new gadget will have the same performance as the old gadget. The reduced sales means prices go up because fixed costs are spread over a lower volume. The higher prices push the sales down even more.

With Moore's Law slowing just as the economy is in the doldrums so people have less money to spend on gadgets... already, just to see IBM shrinking, Microsoft peaking... every week some new unthinkable thing happens!

Michael Baccari said...

Great post as usual!
In the same way that it makes sense to use the resources now available to prepare for a sustainable way of living, I endeavor to use the internet to collect practical information in support of the same goal. I feel a great sense of urgency to accomplish this. If the doomsayers are correct, an economic collapse could end the internet sooner rather than later.
The internet for me is a learning tool, unique in human history.
The perspective that you offer provides crucial focus to those of us with open eyes and searching minds. I greatly appreciate it!

Michael in NC

Michael Parrish said...

I have been reading your blog for many years now and this is the first time I have felt compelled to post.
I am old enough to have experienced the learning process both pre and post internet. In my experience, there is no comparison.
Yes, a good library gives me access to all kinds of knowledge that has been printed and gathered and published - in my language, vetted by my government, approved by the library - you get the idea.
With the internet I can, and do, get information at the speed of light from people and places that were never, and can never be, available to me utilizing the older systems of information transfer.
Yes, I agree that the information and knowledge will eventually get transferred and assimilated, if and when we step back older methods.
But the cost will be a much slower evolution of mankind as a species.
At this particular moment (which I will agree is artificial and unsustainable) the internet is allowing me to gain knowledge and experience in a single incarnation that previous generations would have never been able to accomplish.
I have almost instantanious access to information that no printed medium can ever hope to provide.
I have back-and-forth comunication with other people that will not be possible without the internet.
Human evolution will not be stopped by the fall of the internet. But I think it will be slowed back down to crawl. And that will be a sad thing to experience firsthand.

Charles Justice said...

I'm not counting on the internet existing much into the future, but its growth has been astonishing and how it has evolved has caught me by surprise. My philosophy is use it to the max while it's available. I'm also hedging my bets by collecting books. I find your account of the financial background intriguing. I'm thinking more of the electrical grids, governments, declining rare earth metals as possible nails in the coffin.

onething said...

I live in an underserved, rural area, where DSL is, I think, 1 mg per second (or minute?) which is actually quite slow by city standards. But we don't actually get that. During peak hours, it slows down to almost zero, and I sometimes have significant trouble doing my job, which is medical transcribing over the net. But really it doesn't take as much energy as things like video. It does take a little more speed than reading a blog. I wonder how this industry will fare? Certainly it is a task ideally suited to being done at home, and energy wise might break even since you don't have to travel to a job.

Something that has been disturbing my daughter is that other parents of babies and toddlers are posting very compromising pictures of their kids on the net, probably facebook, and she thinks this is a violation of respect for them as it is totally public and permanent (except maybe it really isn't permanent). Somewhat related, she notes that many parents spy on their young children with a device that allows them to watch their kids in their rooms even though the kids think they are alone. True, so far they are doing it with very young kids, but way to grow up accepting full surveillance!

My 2-1/2 year-old grandson often spends time in his room alone before and after naps, and she refuses to spy on him. She thinks it is unfair and disrespectful.

James Fauxnom said...

I had a good chuckle at "sending anonymous hate-filled messages to unsuspecting recipients". I suppose we should be thankful if internet trolls aren't tossing bricks through windows.

I've had a run in with very amateur cyber criminals trying to ransom my computer. Its not difficult to imagine a future when routine use of the internet comes with significant risks. I'd like to know how residents of China or North Korea view the internet. Ah, Progress!

Thomas Daulton said...

Yeah, I could see it happening. Right now Google is positioned for a sort of quasi-monopoly over the Internet... if you're a small entrepreneur trying to start a company, you just go to Google Business and in one fell swoop you get domain, e-mail, office apps, cloud storage, and social media set up in an hour. Heck if you want you can basically install a Google operating system on your computer, all through your web browser. As more and more people do that, the individualized, specialized websites of the big players... and what Cory Doctorow likes to call "general purpose computing"... certainly won't disappear, but they may be pushed to the margins, until people think of Google "owning" the Internet the way that Microsoft "owns" personal computers. With monopoly or oligarchy, then the inevitable cheapening, cutting corners, and nonresponsive customer service will set in. The small users will eventually find that Google doesn't care about their accounts, much like your phone company doesn't care about you unless you have ten lines. Then Internet commerce will start to seem like a quaint holdover from an earlier day, much like people consider voice phone calls to be a primitive and inconvenient intrusion much of the time. By the time we reach that extreme -- hopefully face-to-face, highly localized commerce will have experienced a resurgence.

Indrajala said...

I don't know if it would be profitable, but downsizing the scale of internet data to something like we had in 1995 would reduce infrastructure requirements. A lot of the data going through server farms is presumably youtube junk, gaming traffic and other constant streams rather than text content. In the internet of 1995 there were almost no videos, and music consisted of irritating midi files that erupted out of nowhere. In those days people could host their own server with a home PC (direct connection to their IP address), and the HD didn't burn out.

D.M. said...

Working in the computer industry I can say that most people are ready to abandon their computers as most of them have trouble doing much with them.

As far as holding one's files for ransom by encrypting them, that was quite the plague for a while, had a lot of people bring their computers in with encrypted files, the technical term, fittingly enough, is ransomware. You either paid up or lost access to your information. The other type locked your computer down, but is easily removed if one knows how.

Not surprising that financial information gets stolen as easily as it does, most businesses just do not take digital security seriously, probably because they do not understand it first of all. Second of all our nervous systems have evolved to value the physical, not ephemeral magnetic field variations on a magnetised medium.

Figured as much that when the Internet slowly implodes it will go back to what it was originally created for, government and military communications.

If the academic industry collapses does that mean that degrees will be mostly useless with no backing from the institutions that accredited them, or will it just be harder to get one of those pieces of paper?

Dagnarus said...

That's all very well and good, but I think you forgot to take this,

and this

I guess some people are just unwilling to enter into the new golden age.

pygmycory said...

In Canada, the prices of internet service has gone up and people are complaining. So you could say it is already starting, above and beyond more news providers demanding money beyond a certain number of free articles per month that keeps going down.

When it comes to buying things one often finds that a site won't ship to Canada, which isn't terribly useful. It can be really annoying if you fail to notice this early on, and is a decent argument against buying things online.

citizentools said...

Agreed that seeming longevity is no sign of a sound business, e.g.the ongoing unprofitability of airlines.

But for the rest, some data would be nice to see. Google builds and presumably maintains a lot of data centers, yet maintains a healthy return on capital.

Of course, that might be due to the ad bubble you're asserting, but data, dowdy though it might be, would be helpful to get beyond "Gosh, data centers are big" or "Amazon has amazing revenues" and so forth.

Brian said...

Hmm... I wonder? When it becomes impossible to sustain the cost of a new non-volatile memory chip plant or a new cell tower transmitter plant, will we gradually settle back into books and newspapers? A newspaper is a pretty complex thing too.

I wonder if it isn't going to be something totally different that we can't imagine right now?

Wayne Freeman said...

Excellent article. I'd suggest another factor that could bring an end to the internet more quickly than the ones you mentioned: Lack of will and/or funding to keep the network of telecommunications satellites at anywhere near a functional level. Already, back in 2011 or 2012, Congress was slow to provide funding to NOAA to replace a weather satellite that was failing. I don't know if it ever came up with the money or what the outcome was; I couldn't find recent references to the issue. Nevertheless, the precedent has been set.

Here's a scary thought: What will the trolls do when they no longer have their cyberbridges to hide out under?

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

Interesting fact: the first post I ever read by you mentioned the unsustainability of the Internet. I still remember the sense of panic the suggestion instilled in me, and it was a couple of years before I started reading you again.

Closer to the topic, I'm just old enough to have had a chance to grow up with computers before the Internet became such a huge part of the experience, and my memories are very clear about one aspect: they were just more fun back then.

One of the worst developments in the computing from my perspective is the cultural dominance of online social networks. Looking back, as a young nerd and Aspie, one of the benefits of an interest in computers was precisely the ability to avoid the excessive social interactions that I fared so poorly at, and all the nonsense that went along with it. Now, it's become almost taboo not to have a Facebook account.

Then there are the sites like 4chan, Reddit, and Tumblr (what I like to call the "unholy trinity" of the web) that should really be called "anti-social networks" given the behavior of many of the denizens.

Ugh. I'm getting a little queasy just thinking about it all.

D. Mitchell said...

I am in the unfortunate position of being in one of those rural areas where they refuse to upgrade. I am at 1.5 Mbs while many other people, only one mile from my house, are at 10 Mbs. It angers me to no end. I find I am unable to fully participate in the internet through games, streaming videos and other things most netizens take for granted.

My family and neighbors keep saying they will eventually extend it to 10 Mbs. Unfortunately, I have been told outright they will not. I make my living off the internet and have found great difficulty in keeping up with my competitors and have lobbied heavily for a faster connection. Now I am looking at going back to what I started my business doing, over the phone, as I make more money that way and it is safer. I have had my bank account almost cleaned out twice.

I have to untangle all the finances form the internet, but once I do, everything is coming off. No point in paying for a service that can not keep up with what my industry demands when I can fall back to an older route and make almost as much for much less hassle.

SweaterMan said...


You said:

Telecommunications companies serving some of the more impoverished parts of rural America are already letting their networks in those areas degrade, since income from customers doesn’t cover the costs of maintenance.

I've been fighting that battle for 20+ years in my area [the Arizona Strip - Google it].

Telcos have not only let networks degrade, I've been through at least 4 mergers [southwest bell to us west to qwest to centurlylink] over the years. There has NEVER been any real incentive to upgrade/maintain/improve the network infrastructure because, as you rightly say, there is no profit in it. Not to argue against the companies, as, rightly, they are supposed to be in business for profit.

But, the consequences can be rather against the grain of the progres of our times:

Regardless, much of my area doesn't even have Internet access anyway; I just think it is interesting that the "Internet" may shrink BEFORE it became available everywhere - much to all of these companies regret.

Jim said...

Thank you Archdruid for another insightful essay. Some thoughts:

One of the side effects of the internet seems to be the destruction of the USPS. It is an interesting question whether enough of it will remain to take up any slack caused by a, presumably, slow death of the internet.

I think there is more in common between the internet and what would be the information technology of a small, post collapse, community. A radio station,even a library, is attached very assuredly to the the larger world and depends on both the information and the technology of the larger society.

escapefromwisconsin said...

It might be instructive to read the story of the attempts to build a low-tech DIY Internet in Afghanistan. The effort was covered with great fanfare in the pages of Fast Company in 2011. In 2012, however:

Given all the mention of cat pictures in the post, I can't help but contribute. Enjoy

Tom Bannister said...

As I read this, my not yet converted techno brainwashed subconscious is screaming No No No! how dare yee take away my favorite toy, the entire purpose of my existence! how dare you deny mans great destiny. your just a errr... phew that's better my subconscious resistance has sputtered out.

Speaking of people leaving the internet because of crime, a family member of mine now refuses point blank to use the internet after she was consecutively assailed by scammers. Thankfully she didn't much money. Even myself too, I'm getting stronger and stronger shivers every time some internet website/application asks me for my credit card number/ phone number/ postal address etc. I didn't sign up for an i tunes account for example because I felt like they were getting far too much information about me.

I remember passage out of 'Antifragile' by Nassim Taleb where he points out a good rule of thumb for the durability of a technology. "the longer its been around, the longer its likely to stay around".

James M. Jensen II (badocelot/shiningwhiffle) said...

It just struck me: your discussion about the various subsidies that enable the Internet to operate as it does has a lot of bearing on the recent spats over Net Neutrality.

The official narrative is the familiar free-market-versus-benevolent-regulation spin that's almost always complete nonsense. If you think of it in terms of "Who's going to pay for the Internet?" the real narrative emerges: regulation that benefits one set of corporations vs. regulation that benefits another set. Which is what pretty much always lies behind the market-vs-regulation narrative.

pyrrhus said...

Very interesting, stirs many memories. Back in the early '70s I drove by the Boeing plant on I-5 many times, yet have no recollection of a 2707 mural....memory suppression?
We used to eat in a restaurant that served the burgers on model trains...started by a laid off Boeing engineer.

FiftyNiner said...

I think you may have stunned quite a few readers with this post! Here it is 10:45 and still no comments! It shows how easily people have taken to the internet without giving any real thought to how it actually worked or what the real cost of it is.

In my one semester of graduate study in the Graduate School of Library Service at the University of Alabama, my instructor in a reference course told us that the library hoped at that point--fall of 1978--to have the entire card catalog of the Gorgas Library available on computer terminal access in house some years in the future. She put the time on the project of at least 10 to 15 years but it actually happened in about 5 years.

I don't bring this up as any kind of counter to what you say in your post, because the internet came some time later. It make me think also of the cataloging instructor taking us into the cataloging room of the library during a night class that I took and showing us the OCLC terminal(Ohio College Library Center)which was housed at the Ohio State University Library and became one of the most trafficked academic sites of the internet before the internet was released to the general public.

I have actually been thinking for some time that I will disengage from the internet at some time in the near future. I am beginning to feel about it as I did television many years ago. It's just not worth my time.

I do hope you will do a post on what you think the "postal service" will look like in the future. I worked there for 20 years as a part-time flexible employee and saw all the Byzantine management foul ups, but also left two years ago feeling that in the long descent we had probably better hold onto that infrastructure for as long as we can. Most people think that UPS and FEDEX could take up the slack if the post office were to disappear. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I left the USPS was still carrying 62% of all parcels and was doing end point delivery for both UPS and FFEDEX in order so save each of them enormous fuel costs.

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

Very interesting thoughts this week JMG-- And ironic, considering they are disseminated by internet :-). I wonder if we will see, as an intermediate stage of decline, the return of BBS's (Bulletin Board Services). For several years before the internet really got rolling, there were hundreds of entrepreneurs who would put up a server and a few dial-up phone lines to allow file sharing by modem. Some of the files you wanted were lists of phone numbers to other BBS's. It was possible to keep track of all your BBS phone numbers with ProComm or other such software.
Ah well, seems unlikely, as a lot of the land lines that allowed BBS's are already gone.

Nestorian said...

The subsidy angle is an important point, and one that I, for one, had not taken into account.

That said, today's commercialized internet requires the transmission of vast amounts of data - particularly from content providers to end users. Most of the stuff that interests me on the net, though (like reading JMG's posts), requires only a small fraction of this data capacity.

I think that applies to a lot of useful net-based activities, which leads to the following question: How do you properly factor in the difference between high-data-rate and low-data-rate activities in any predictive account of the slow demise of the internet?

Godfree Roberts said...

An equally critical evaluation of the benefits of the Internet would be welcome. The Internet allows me to live in Thailand and work 'in' the USA. I used to be able to do that before the Internet sp long as I was willing to commute from Bangkok to NYC four times a year – at a cost that surpasses understanding.

Boulderlovin Cat said...

My place of work (a community college)is currently spending over a million dollars just to upgrade internet and wireless services. Another million or so will eventually be spent on an IT building that will be able to house a larger server farm. That is without even factoring in the IT salaries and the cost of equipment needed across our campuses to plug into the internet.

When you see IT workers open the ceilings to work on the wires or get a glimpse of our own server farm behind the scenes it becomes clearer that this is not sustainable over the long term. People are amazed when I point out that our data resides on one of our local servers. I feel like they really do picture it as out there in a 'cloud' somewhere.

Our students, faculty and staff expect 'free' internet. They are paying for it in other ways-as we are a state institution, taxes come into play, as well as tuition and fees. It's just too easy in our culture to divorce the true cost from the service.

backyardfeast said...

Oh JMG, this brings up so many images and loosely connected thoughts. One of the stories I tell my students when they consider the internet and the de-industrial future is one that came to my attention during Hurricane Sandy. The power was out all over NYC, and a small ISP was trying to keep their server running for their customers as long as they could. They were doing it by passing jerry cans of diesel by hand, assembly-line style, up 5 flights of stairs to keep the generator running!

I wonder if you could elaborate on what the alternative to the internet for several of the things you mention would be, though. The obvious answer is the old-fashioned world of snail-mail. I don't know how the USPS is doing these days, but Canada Post is not doing well. They are in the midst of massive layoffs, pension decreases, big postage cost hikes, and a controversial shift away from door-to-door service, in favour of community mailboxes. I completely agree with your points about the internet; I'm just not so convinced that we're going to have a robust postal system that we can return to...instead, in our contracting economy, I expect long-distance communication to really suffer.

Most of us can still remember the days of painful long-distance phone calls, where you had to call an operator and wait for them to call you back when it was possible to connect your call, then have your relative try to keep the conversation as short as possible because it was costing a fortune! :)

Another stat, recently related on the news: YouTube is now 10 years old. It's never turned a profit.

Nestorian said...

Then, there is the matter of ecommerce. I do a lot of online shopping because I find it convenient (and because I loathe the classic brick-and-mortar shopping experience). Items thus purchased on a regular basis in my household include books, auto parts, tools, computer peripherals, seeds, clothing, etc.

However, a more important consideration is that internet shopping may be less expensive in net energy terms than traditional brick-and-mortar shopping. Just think of all the gasoline I save every time I purchase an item online, rather than driving to three or four different stores looking for just the right item to fill the function I need filled.

Of course, the delivery truck uses fuel too. However, the delivery truck takes advantage of sophisticated logistics to deliver a large number of parcels using the same amount of fuel that I would use to find one item after driving and looking at three or four stores.

Is it the case that online commerce costs less in net-energy terms than brick-and-mortar shopping? If so, how will this consideration affect the long-term decline of the internet?

John Michael Greer said...

William, did you notice my reference to the internet fifty years from now, consisting largely of government, military, and business computers linked together? As for the "internet of things," my guess is that it'll be short-lived due to economic factors -- not to mention the disadvantages that accrue when somebody can hack your refrigerator...

Yucca, one of the ambiguities here is what counts as "the internet." A DARPAnet style network the general public can't access may be an internet, but is it "the internet" in any current sense of the phrase?

Jean-Vivien, to me, it's the daily news that reads like a collection of malign fairy tales.

Zachary, that comparison makes perfect sense to me.

LatheChuck, hmm! That makes sense. I'll want to look into it.

Allan, I read that post when it first came out! As for reading problems, if that ever started happening to me I'd drop my computer out the window at once -- I love books far too much to let the internet get in the way. I'd definitely encourage you to try a media fast.

Harry, true enough, but I suspect the point at which there's no more fruit to pick is closer than it appears. More on this as we proceed.

Angus, no argument, a text-based internet would be a lot cheaper -- but a postal service is cheaper still, you know. The question is whether the additional value of the internet would be enough to cover the higher costs; I'm far from sure it would be.

Cathy, oh, it's going to be traumatic, no question. One of the core reasons I've been encouraging people to adopt old technologies is that that might make it a little less traumatic than it would otherwise be.

Rapier, mass information storage using current technologies is incredibly vulnerable to sudden loss. As for electronics, I expect salvage to keep quite a range of components available for decades after the last chip factories shut down; the question is whether they can produce enough value to be worth the energy and material costs in a deindiustrializing world.

Fudoshin, maybe so, but a great many people seem to think otherwise. I'm less interested in the internet as a technology than I am in the internet as a myth, a talisman of progress, and an excuse for ignoring the ongoing reality of decline -- but the creeping failure of the technology itself also seems worth discussing.

Cherokee, as far as I know, no, Attila never got lost; of course he had the advantage of an army of Huns to gallop ahead of him and report back. You might suggest that option to your visitors -- I don't know if you have a ready supply of Huns, but drunken football fans ought to be available, and that's almost as good. As for Xero, a fine example of the species; I wonder how much investment capital they'll burn through before anyone notices that it's all, so to speak, a Xero-sum game.

Mark Rice said...

A view from the Valley:

I do suspect the internet will not live forever. In the short term, the demise of the internet is greatly exagegerated.

The energy required to send a bit of information thousands of kilometers is still dropping quickly. Telecom equipment is dropping in price and power consumption.

Computers are no longer dropping in price the way they used to though. The end of Moore's law is upon us.

Much of the internet is profitable without subsidies or speculative "investment". Google and Verizon are two examples.

However there are a lot of unprofitable and/or shrinking tech companies that manage to hang on year after year. Some are large and well known such as Yahoo and Philips. There are many smaller companies that did not make it but somehow keep getting financing year after year.

A joke about Western Digital. Who even buys hard drives these days? Google and the NSA. And they both do almost the same thing. They both know everything about us.

I do think the internet will survive in an approximation of it's present form as long as the complicated supply chain can hold together.

If the internet were to go away, I am not sure I would really miss it. I would miss having a job though.

wiseman said...

This prediction (if it can be called as such) is for US, the world ? What time frame (roughly) ? Would you care to qualify.

If you are talking about facebook and all yes most of it is useless but the experience in my country is quite the opposite, internet has helped liberate a lot of small town traders who can now sell their wares online. Farmers who can check the latest prices and get correct rates. Trade has increased and efficiency has gone up. Corruption has come down a lot because most govt services are now online and I don't have to drive two km just to start an account. All of it can be done online. In short internet has saved us tonnes of energy and fuel.

I would say the developing world uses internet efficiently as a tool (like it was intended). Although we will eventually get to the facebook stage later.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, exactly. It occurs to me that a simple manual on how to get by without the internet might be worth writing.

Jim, true enough.

Michael B., many thanks.

Michael P., you keep on using that word "evolution." I do not think it means what you think it means...

Charles, those are also issues, but my guess is that the economic dimension will turn out to be the most important factor in the internet's demise.

Onething, your daughter is quite correct -- it's good to hear that from a parent.

James, bricks through windows is a grand old tradition, but the old-fashioned poison pen letter will no doubt come back into use as trolls lose their internet connections.

Thomas, exactly. Imagine an internet as shoddy, shabby, unhelpful and uncomfortable as a modern American subway system; that's the wave of the future. ;-)

Indrajala, back when the internet ran that way, it was mostly supported by government funding. I don't think it could have turned a profit.

DM, I'll be devoting a post to the impending collapse of the academic industry sometime fairly soon. I know a lot of people in the field, and the stories I've gotten from them are hair-raising.

Dagnarus, nah, I don't find motorized blow-up dolls any more entrancing than the ordinary kind.

Pygmycory, thanks for the heads up -- I wonder if that's also happening elsewhere.

Citizentools, if you want figures, then Google for them. This is the age of information, right?

Cherokee Organics said...


That response is hysterical and worthy of a top notch tea spitting incident! Too funny. Thanks.

PS: I've started writing the first entry of my story for the Space Bats competition: Shaman part one.

Honestly, fiction is really not my thing and I would appreciate any and all help with the story, so people don't be shy and please provide some help! As a guide to some of the sort of things I'm asking for help with is: structure; logical inconsistencies; grammar; layout; does it lose your interest; do any of the words I've used add nothing to the story; are the characters acting incorrectly; should any parts of the story be spiced up a bit? You know, basically help with the whole lot, it actually might end up being an OK story? I already know what the conclusion will be - but it won't be revealed until the end.

Part one is only a 1,000 words, so it will only take a few minutes to read.

Help please!



Hi Angus,

Thanks mate, I learned that the hard way by almost running out of water during a drought - and almost running out of power over the depths of winter. Really glad to hear that you understand what it means. Respect.

Yucca Glauca said...

@ Michael Parrish

I'm going to have to disagree there. What is it that you've been learning about? I've never been able to do any research that was worth doing on the internet, and I've tried hard. The information on the internet is always way too superficial.

To pull from my own experience in biology: Need to test seawater for the amount of certain chemicals? The procedure isn't on the internet, it's in a dusty book above your professor's desk. Need to culture a rare species of mosquito? Their dietary needs have never been published, but another professor can recommend a colleague who knows. Need to make a GIS rangemap? Have fun digitizing these maps from the library by hand.

Speaking of biology, I can't resist kindly recommending that you double check how evolution works. If you roll your eyes and acknowledge that you mean something completely different with the word than a biologist would, perhaps consider how the mythology of Progress relates to what you do mean.

John Michael Greer said...

Brian, a newspaper can be produced with 14th century technology, and it's a technology that still has a lot of practitioners. I doubt that something new and unimagined will be able to compete with that.

Wayne, fraying of the satellite network needn't shut down the internet as such, though it'll terminate some of its associated technologies such as GPS. As for trolls, they'll do what their exact equivalents used to do in the days before the internet: write nasty letters with no return addresses. "Poison pen letters" was the common phrase at the time.

James, it's worth a quease or two.

D. Mitchell, my guess is that a lot of people are in the process of making that decision, or moving toward it, right now.

SweaterMan, welcome to the real cutting edge!

Jim, a library consists of a collection of books and a means of cataloging them, and books don't require a global economy -- a few printing presses are enough, as Benjamin Franklin demonstrated. A radio station can work entirely on local programming -- some still did in my youth -- and a postal system can run on a very small scale; those in colonial America began that way, for example. I should probably do posts on all these technologies as we proceed.

Escape, many thanks!

Tom, your family member is ahead of the curve. As for your subconscious resistance, glad you're feeling better; I'm amused to note that a lot of people seem to have more to unload before they reach that state.

James, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for getting past the sound bites to the real story, which is as usual about who rakes in the cash at other people's expense.

Pyrrhus, it got painted out in 1971, after Congress cut funding. If you made the drive in 1969 or 1970, you might remember it; it was best seen from East Marginal Way, but you could see it from I-5 as well.

FiftyNiner, I'll definitely be doing a post on postal services. I get the impression that Ben Franklin is going to feature several times in the months to come.

Emmanuel, it would depend on whether there's an equivalent of the land lines. Packet radio was another option, though our resident ham radio expert here (tip of the archdruidical hat to August) tells me those are more complex than I'd remembered. Still, it's possible.

William Knight said...

"William, did you notice my reference to the internet fifty years from now, consisting largely of government, military, and business computers linked together?"

In the reference I believe you are referring to, the only mention of business I noticed was 'email and a few other services to the very rich'. If this was your meaning, then it implies a drastic reduction in business computing. This could be the case, but would happen for quite different reasons than those you mentioned for the consumer internet.

Also, with respect to the Internet of Things, reasonable opinions can certainly vary about its potential at this early stage, but I suspect that many people are missing out on its profound implications, which go well beyond one's fridge. Small, low-power processors and sensors produced in massive quantities will result in vastly distributed networks that will collect and communicate all kinds of data in the inhabited environment.

Naturally this will have all sorts of good and nefarious consequences, but I believe such networks will proliferate very widely in the near future. How long they last depends on the capacity to manufacture cheap computing elements.

Here's a link to the sorts of devices I have in mind, for those who may be interested:

John Michael Greer said...

Nestorian, good. The answer, though, depends on which one will pay the bills, because profitability is more important than technical factors such as data rate.

Godfree, the benefits don't matter unless they cover the costs. That's one thing I've noticed that internet users rarely seem to grasp; it doesn't matter how much you personally benefit from the internet, what matters is what, if anything, can pay the internet's expenses.

Cat, exactly. The illusion of something for nothing is one of the things that makes the internet so potent a source of confusion and misunderstanding.

Backyardfeast, no question, long distance communication will suffer. My guess is that those countries that come through the next round of crises in better shape than most will rebuild their postal services, and the rest will have to make do with whatever can be jerry-rigged together. Ham radio operators used to pass messages from city to city in a kind of informal telegraph network; the old message traffic system still exists among US hams, though I don't know whether it's widespread elsewhere. More on this as we proceed.

Nestorian, do you remember mail order? I certainly do. My guess is that where functional postal services remain, mail order catalogs (which of course remain very much a living technology today) will become standard for those specialty goods that can't always support brick and mortar. As for the energy footprint of internet shopping vs. local stores, I don't know of an impartial assessment; if anyone does, I'd be interested to hear of it.

Mark, if you're employed in the hardware end of things, you probably have a job for the foreseeable future. Software, not so much -- there are a lot of signs that the current boom is simply a second tech stock bubble, which will end the same way the last one did.

Wiseman, it's entirely possible that India will have a fairly widespread internet long after the US doesn't have one at all; we're past the peak of empire and on our way down, while India's still coming out from under the long economic burden of British empire and is arguably on its way up.

Cherokee, just one of the services I offer. I'll take a look at the story as time permits, and offer any suggestions that seem relevant.

William, well, I did mention defense contractors, you know. I agree that there will be a lot less business computing going on; partly that'll happen once labor costs drop below the costs of automation, and it becomes more profitable here -- as it already is in much of the Third World -- to hire a person than to pay for a machine. As for the internet of things, I think there we've finally approached the reductio ad absurdum of the internet revolution; I'm thinking here of an ad I saw recently for a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush, which tracks your dental habits on a website and sends you text messages when you forget to brush your teeth after meals. A society that would pay money for such a thing pretty clearly has drool pooling in its lap.

D.M. said...

Ah, good to know. I figured it did not look good for the colleges and universities. Is this perhaps a bad time to attempt to finish up a Bachelor of Science degree?

Ares Olympus said...

Its hard to know what we're talking about, but what we know as the internet could transform itself into something else, and something more local, and something of lower power requirements. And is there a battle between analogue vs digital signals? As long as computers of some sort are running, digital would seem to stay king.

I admit I never guessed TV would die, but with weak digital signals with no redundancy, it looks like broadcast TV will be dead before anything else. But maybe it depends on where you live.

In comparison for technology I consider a little book called "The Victorian Internet" about the rise of the telegraph, and it gives a glimpse of the pre-communication era.

My dad's generation had ham radio, and I still have his unpowered repeater tower in the backyard, a repurposed windmill.

Cellphones helped to take down ham radio, and smart phones absorbed the internet, but I think there was some digital data communication as well within ham radio.

I admit the whole "net neutrality" issue confuses me, but it does seem like the internet is "underfunded", and if costs rise by energy or infrastructure, perhaps "toll ways" will be demanded by users with money, and the debate will be moot.

The strangest thing for me about the internet is that it could be archived at all, but for many websites, you can see what they looked like in the past. Data storage is crazy cheap or you'd never hope for such access. So perhaps the day the music stops will still find a "read only" internet from local archives of its past.

I'd never expect how far we've come, and I can't dare guess anything of where we'd go, in a high or low energy future.

Raymond Duckling said...

Marginally related but, Mr. Greer, it seems someone in the Pentagon has read Star's Reach...

"DARPA Seeks to Create Software Systems That Could Last 100 Years"

Contrast that to the nonsense fad of "Minimal Viable Product" (aka. build the bare minimum market will tolerate, care about proper engineering if/when this cannot be put off anymore) in the consumer side of the industry and you can almost see where the line is being drawn.

Jack Ellis said...

It's that whole R-selected / K-selected issue again, isn't it?

The internet as-is could be seen as an R-selected communications technology, expanding (vigorously but inefficiently) into an untested and fresh-looking niche, flush with available resources(credit), untaxed and with re4latively small numbers of relatively un-evolved predators.

Eventually we hit some limits; Free money dries up, predator numbers (and sophistication) increase, niches fill. The number of Moa-like tech investors ambling about to be clubbed and eaten starts to drop.

So we end up returning to something closer to a K-selected communication method. A postie on his bike. A whole-earth catalogue.

Right now, in the expansion stage, postal services are collapsing due to competition from online communication, and governments are looking at cuts. The fast moving, high growth strategy is the winner. But for how long? And how much K-selected infrastructure will be left when we need it?

Mark Sebela said...

You know you do need a fully functioning grid or nothing else matters. As the climate swings become more intense and erratic, the damage to the entire infrastructure will only increase. Most of the Infrastructure was designed in the 20th century for a 20th century stable climate and requires massive inputs of energy and materials just to maintain it.
Band-Aids can only hold it together for so long. Industrial civilization requires massive amounts of uninterrupted water supply. California is in year 4 of their drought and their troubles are many and just beginning - the entire west is following (parts of Washington state too) and there is no indication of it ending - it could go on for generations.

Aging US Power Grid Blacks Out More Than Any Other Developed Nation

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. Infrastructure a D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

Mike said...

It sounds as though you expect photography to survive? So people can look at pictures of kittens and "people with their clothes off" the old-fashioned way? Or do you envision local sketch artists providing these pictures?

Wizard of Tas said...

For me, the true horror is not just that the internet might retract until it's just a tool for oligarchs and military, but that the principle applies to all resources.

Think Hunger Games. The usual assumption is that everything will grind to a halt as resources run low. But what is more likely is that power centers could go on for much longer if they pulled their resources into a smaller geographical control centre.

Now give THOSE individuals an army, drones and high tech. If they keep that while we live the Amish Paradise...

Chloe said...

It looks like a short anecdote has turned into a long and meandering comment:

Not long ago, I read a newspaper article in which some government minister/spokesperson promised that we would all have super-fast broadband... Or was it ultra-fast? No, wait, I think it was hyper-fast...

I don't think I've lived anywhere with a truly reliable internet connection since dial-up went out of fashion, so I wonder where all these people are who already have "fast" broadband (which I'm sure never breaks down, or cuts out unexpectedly, or fails to send an important email). It was particularly amusing since, at that time, we were about a week into what turned out to be a three-week argument with BT customer services about the fact that we had effectively no internet access at all, and yes we had followed all of their instructions, and could they please send out an actual engineer, preferably on the day they said they were going to?

Taking the cake in this whole fiasco, however, was my mother's insistence that this all showed that I needed to get a smartphone...

It seems to be a case that, as far as economics goes, the internet - along with air travel - exists in a grey area between "profitable" and "completely unsustainable". That is - and particularly in the halcyon, wealthier days of the 90s and early 2000s - it might never have been, strictly speaking, a financially *good idea*, but the cultural/social/emotional benefits it provided were sufficient for people to support it anyway. And had the good times continued, even accounting for the typical processes of maturation, the internet would have been likely to continue in a fairly recognisable form. (As opposed to things like fracking and space exploration, which could only exist for as long as it took people to calculate the actual costs involved. And yes - I know things were getting worse before the 90s, but there's still a big difference between then and now.) Of course, since the good times didn't continue and aren't coming back, we will soon reach a point where the cultural etc benefits don't justify the costs - sooner than for air travel, I'd guess, given that a) many of the "benefits" provided by the internet were always somewhat dubious and b) the differences between the internet and competing, cheaper technologies are much less stark.

That is to say, we can defy the rules of economic good sense for the sake of sentiment, but only up to a point.

I worry about the effect of constant internet (and general screen-based) access on the psychological development (not to mention the skill-set) of children born in the last 10 or 15 years. I'm just old enough to remember when having your own computer was a novelty. Today's children will have the hardest time disengaging from the tech-driven, digital world we're all being encouraged to inhabit - and from emotional blocks such as the "iPhone defence" - because it's all they've ever known. Then again, on a larger scale this is true of industrial society as a whole: it always baffles me when people seem to think that the way we live is the natural way of things, and the last, oh, half-million years* of the human species, or even the ten thousand years of the Holocene, small farming communities and occasional non-oil-powered civilisations, were the blip.

*Anatomically modern humans have existed for maybe 200,000 years and this is most people's preferred start-point for Homo sapiens, but I favour inclusion of the Neanderthals and other archaics given the evidence that they were highly intelligent and interbred with modern humans, and most of our characteristic features are likely down to drift anyway. "Species" is not a precise concept anyway. If I get around to writing a Space Bats entry before the deadline, this may become relevant.

MawKernewek said...

I already see the early stages of this, though perhaps few people recognise it as such.

In the UK, superfast broadband is seen as important economically and subsidised to expand coverage through EU convergence funding in poorer areas. The telecoms industry was privatised in the 1980s but this doesn't appear to stop BT from retaining a monopoly at the infrastructure end of it and collecting almost all of this subsidy income.

Similarly the mobile phone networks have gaps in coverage in many rural areas, and it is now being mooted to use taxpayers money to help fill these, even though these networks are private companies.

Given that politically there seems to be the will to subsidise the telecoms and Internet infrastructure, I would guess that actual contraction of the Internet is still a long way off, but the transition from dynamic high-tech industry to overt subsidy junkie is apparent.

Cloud storage has already had its hacking incidents, I expect at some point a significant data loss incident will occur, if people start finding that a lot of their Dropbox or Google Drive data has simply disappeared confidence may start to be lost.

The major social networks rely on their service being free, because it was only through the network effect that they achieved their popularity. I expect if Facebook for example started charging a monthly subscription, enough users would go away to start a snowball effect in the reverse fashion to the way in which they grew.

Perhaps a film camera which has a facility to superimpose captions on photographs of cats through analog methods is the wave of the future?

Shane Wilson said...

My concern is how the theme from your post about the pseudo Celtic restaurant and screen numbing by the populace and this post combines. A lot of the psychological effects of the internet are sheer addiction, combined with loss of empathy and concentration, as detailed in the Shallows. How the two posts play out together doesn't look pretty.
Rural disconnection. I worked for an independent non Bell Telco in the 90s, when landlines still dominated. The system was still regulated in such a way that urban still subsidized rural, back when landline voice was still the dominant communication. Deregulation has since chipped away at that. Basically, if you live in a rural area, depending on how rural, I wouldn't count on th. reliability of communications lasting very long at all, as the legal framework ensuring rural connectivity has been gutted, and never applied to the internet in the 1st place.
Another thing to remember, at least for the time being until the internet collapse gets good and going, you don't have to be online for your data to go online. The Target breach was from store computers/registers that were online. If you call a call center, the rep is going to put your info in a computer that is online. When you go to the bank or credit union, the teller is going to put your info online in a computer. Currently, everything is done online, whether you do it, or the staff does it for you.

Odin's Raven said...

The Internet,Concorde,and Tony Blair to whom it was said 'You were the future, once'.

The internet had an intellectual benefit. It enabled people to cheaply and easily come across information which would not readily be published by mainstream publishers and sold in many bookshops. Without the internet I'd never have known about your writings, for instance.

It made people more aware of the effective censorship by the gatekeepers of orthodoxy. No doubt this access will be purged by the Powers That Be even before economic necessity does so.

Trivial uses by trivial people may be encouraged by our rulers for as long as possible, as a relatively cheap Circus when the Bread runs short.

miltonics said...

So, how do we keep up on the Archdruid Report after the popular demise of the internet? Are you planning for a different format?

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

John Michael,

Thanks so much for the advice. I hadn't thought of that middle ground, and it may be just what I need. My media fast starts next week. There may be hope for me after all! ;-)



Dagnarus said...

I find it sad that your obvious technophobia blinds you to the sultry alure of this

and instead has you pining after disgusting meat women. But oh well.

On a more serious note, the blog post made we think of two things (other than sexbots that is). Firstly the practice of selling below cost, generally with the idea that your competitors which have less access to cash/credit will go out of business before you, and when that happens you can jack up the price. It occurs to me that whether intentionally or not the internet has used artificial low prices to make it better than it is, and in doing so has put destroyed a lot of competition and cause a lot of sunk capital to be put into it. Could this cause the internet to keep going a lot longer than one would expect from a purely economic perspective?

The second was somewhat tangentially; while often the internet is trotted out as a conciliation price for not having moon bases, why the internet and space colonization are qualitavely different. Ultimately the dream of space colonization/fusion/any number of other things would have led to the expansion of the natural resources available to be exploited by humans, the internet on the other hand merely represents new ways in which those resources can be spent. It is the difference between capital investment vs consumption.

Vilko said...

I'd rather go without a car (I live in the Paris area, and we have rather good public transit) than without my Internet connection. Eight years ago I was three weeks without a car, and all I remember about it is that I bought much less bottled water and useless stuff at the supermarket. You think twice before buying stuff when you have to actually carry it home.

I noticed that the Internet actually makes me save money, since I buy fewer books and magazines. I downloaded as pdfs dozens of books which are not available in French bookstores. I am not more ignorant than I was, quite the reverse, since I have all the information I want available on the Internet.

The Internet also made me more free: I wouldn't know as much as I do about American domestic issues, for instance, and about many other things, without the Internet.

Before the Internet, I once had to take public transit (a one and a half long commute) to go to a library in central Paris to read a grammar of Hittite for two hours. Now, I can read a Hittite grammar online for free, or download it as pdf.

The Internet made me realize that the newspapers and magazines I read, and the TV newscasts I watched, were hopelessly biased. The Internet allows me to compare information from different sources. It's invaluable.

Do you remember how we used to pays fortunes for encyclopedias, before the Internet?

Of course, the Internet won't survive the end of cheap energy. The lower income citizens won't be able to afford it, just like many people can't afford cars anymore nowadays. It will be restricted to the military, and wealthy private and corporate users.

Before the Internet, France had the Minitel, which was very expensive and incredibly primitive compared to the modern Internet. But it had 25 million users in a country of 60 million.
Sometimes, parents had nasty surprises when they received their telephone bill, because their hormone-drenched teen-aged son had spent hours on porn message services, which were heavily taxed and thus very expensive. Yet, Minitels were a must for people who bought and sold stock, and to get legal information, for instance. I used the Minitel to get instant specific info from my union.

We won't have the Concordes and Tu-144s of the Internet: artificial intelligence which would provide company for loners by actually talking to them. On the other hand, it would turn heavy users of such services into absolute loners, addicted to electronic virtual friendship. Many people are addicted to industrial sugar. Industrial sugar causes obesity and diabetes. I guess that electronic virtual company would be just as noxious in the long run.

megpie71 said...

A very simple question for the people who say "the internet is forever" - the technologies which constituted the Internet have been around since the 1960s and before. The World Wide Web and HTML were formulated back in 1983. So why didn't the internet start to boom until the very late 1990s through mid-2000s?

As a very popular science fiction writer once put it, the answer to any question which begins with "why" can often be summarised as: money.

Put simply, prior to the late 1980s, it cost too much to buy computers and run them, it cost too much to get the dedicated telephone lines for the necessary data transfers, and it cost far too much for the necessary international call times to set up a dedicated World Wide Web at the time. So until about the very early 1990s, the internet remained a subsidy sponge in the US Department of Defence and the academic world, and it was primarily an internal thing to each country, with occasional batches of data exchange.

What made it more affordable? Well, it was a combination of things. Firstly, a lot of mining projects got off the ground in third world countries, dumping copper on the market. So it was suddenly within the budget of the larger telecommunications companies and the smaller governments to do things like laying trans-oceanic cables. So that knocked down the cost of telephone calls (and thus the cost of data transfer) between the USA and the rest of the world. Here in Australia, it meant our main connection to the outside 'net was no longer the weekly delivery (by trans-oceanic flight on commercial airliner) of magnetic tapes containing the relevant data (never underestimate the bandwidth of a jumbo full of magtapes!).

Then someone figured out how to make optical glass fibres of a sufficient length to do more than just be novelty lamps (does anyone else remember those particular decor wonders of the 1970s?). Given glass is made of sand, and sand is (literally) dirt cheap, optical fibre allowed the creation of bigger, cheaper cables, and once they'd figured out how to use lasers and optical fibres to transmit binary data, it wasn't as expensive to put down the dedicated cables for data transfer. Oh, and then some bright spark came up with a way to send both binary and analogue data down the same copper wire, thus getting twice the service out of the existing telephone infrastructure.

As the cost of connecting to the internet came down, the commercial possibilities became more obvious, and in the USA, ComCast was the first commercial provider of internet services. Then came America Online, which not only sold business-to-business (which was ComCast's main money maker) but also sold to individual consumers... and the Eternal September started in 1993 (look it up).

Meg Thornton said...

When you point to the notion of people giving up using the internet because the costs of being online are found to be outweighing the benefits, I have to point out this is already happening. At present, it's social costs being charged, and the people they're being charged to are people who identify as female, as non-binary gendered, as non-heterosexual, as non-white, as non-neurotypical, as non-able-bodied, and so on. So if you're not in the white, middle-to-upper-middle class heterosexual neurotypical, able-bodied cismale minority, you're probably already carefully considering which parts of the internet you consider "safe" to visit.

I know as a woman, I tend to think twice about stating my opinion on certain topics, and there are parts of the internet I know not to go near, because if I speak there, I'll be opening the gates to an online mob which has only got more vicious and extreme since the beginning of September 1993. I've been cyberstalked once (and I had a very mild version of the problem), and that was enough for me. I do not need some bright young pseudo-sociopathic spark deciding an appropriate punishment for being a mouthy broad in the twenty-teens is to have an armed police response squad landing on my front doorstep.

fudoshindotcom said...

you're absolutely right that a great many people consider the end of the internet a very worthy discussion topic. On reading the comments I realized that I completely overlooked the folks who make all or part of their income from it and the ones who never experienced life without it.

Perhaps, having already accepted it's demise and the end of the industrial age as a foregone conclusion, I see it as beating a dead horse. Of course, this is my own personal bias.

To the people who earn a living from it or cling to it as a talisman of progress the discussion will be extremely relevant. I intended only to express that in the context of my current life-path it is not.

Your writing is largely to credit for that. You've convinced me of the unsustainability of modern society, and thus also get credit for my much deeper interest in further developing a medicinal herb garden, for example, than the myth and technology of the internet.

That said, I return last week's gold star to you (I promise it's dry).

Betsy Megalos said...

A friend of mine just introduced me to a new term.. CYBER PUNK DISTOPIA- a 1980s Sci-Fi Fantasy literature genre- A time of catatonic collapse, there is great disparity between the haves and have nots and some make livings via internet/ cyber attacks.
When I asked when is this time period? They assured me that we are already in it!

Silent Otto said...

Is the internet humanities attempt to create a rough approximation of the Quantum Field ?
Like the Primates dancing around the motionless slab in 2001 , our own little Frankenstein our misguided view , easier to construct and interact with than the real thing , a way of starving ourselves of information , as Jaron Lanier suggested in one of his books ; not even remotely close to the sensory stimulation we receive from an interaction with a field of trees , waving grass , animals and insects , a breeze playing on our faces as the sun sets and the moon rises . Reminds me of the movie Prmetheus where the Grigori Watcher tears the head off the Android in disgust .
Would be fascinated to hear your take on the metaphysics of the internet ...a trip along the 18th path .
The Telluric Anxious net seems to be mainly used as a digital prison , i will be sorry to see it go .
An elemental superhighway , seems to be a good place to create , though plenty of people seem to come unstuck in various ways with it .
Could be on the wrong blog with these musings ...

margfh said...

I wonder how many will begin to think most on the internet is just not worth it. I've found recently that I'm really just kind of bored with it and often find that I'm just reading the same things stated in different ways (not ADR of course).

The lack of security is also a huge issue. Now you should be checking with the three credit agencies annually, always checking your bank account and credit cards - the list goes on. Talk about the law of diminishing returns.

Unfortunately it seems we are being pushed more and more to do things electronically. It's more and more difficult to reach someone at the Social Security Office as they want people to use their website which itself is a challenge. Considering that the people that need to contact SSA are either senior citizens or disabled ....

If you have an accountant prepare your taxes they are required now to file online. In talking to my accountant she agrees that this just makes our information much more insecure. She also said it's more difficult for them as there are many additional hoops they have to jump through though she didn't go into specifics.

Professor Diabolical said...

Wanted to bring to your attention an excellent example of the cult of linear progress, the fantasy of Flat-Earth Theory.
This extensive article highlights how NO ONE in the ancient world really thought the earth was flat. The real reason Isabella didn't want to waste money on Columbus was precisely BECAUSE she knew the diameter of the earth, and that at 12,000 miles Asia was too far to sail.
So more to the point was how and why modern people fabricated and perpetuated the myth that they were smart and the ancients and medieval worlders were dummies who ignored and made up facts...thereby proving that they, the modern scientists and educators, were in fact the dummies ignoring evidence and making up facts.

Just making your point of the myth of linear progress in one article that pops the long-held illusion.

Mister Roboto said...

Two things to say. 1) If collapse is going to be anything other than an unmitigated soul-crushing catastrophe for society in this country, then one effect of it is going to have to be the end of the American cult of social atomization. That's a fancy way of saying we don't talk to each other face-to-face, up-close and personal anymore. And that's if we ever did. The amount of separation between people who are within relatively close proximity to one another is very shocking when you stop and think about it. One reason the Internet is such an obsession here is because it has become a surrogate for having friends and having real interaction with our neighbors and co-workers. If anything good comes from collapse, it will have to start with people forgetting about the computer and the television set and going outside and talking to people once again about things that matter!

Second thing: I listened to your recent interview with Chris Martenson, and I think part of the problem with Baby Boomer (or Baby Boomer men, at least) isn't just their circumstances but their generational character. As an astrologer, I think a lot of it is because they are the "Pluto in Leo" generation, which influences so many of them into being less mature and more self-involved. Pluto often has a way of bringing out the dark side of the sign it occupies, and my own Pluto in Virgo generation (and that includes yours truly) has more than a small problem with handing out judgments and labels like pillow-mints in a middlebrow restaurant and also hypocritical self-righteousness. The only thing one can really do is just try to gravitate more towards the positive aspects of the sign in question!

myelectricpants said...

I, for one, look forward to receiving my monthly Archdruid Report newsletters by post. I hope they include planting guides and recipes.

Seriously though, having worked in a number of data centers and seen first hand the level of waste, energy used, and hubris involved in creating these almost useless machines, it feels completely believable that the internet will vanish in not terribly long. The products used to create these server farms, even though they physically exist, are almost as ephemeral as the financial paper the tertiary economy uses to generate the wealth to seed the companies that create the farms. Software is a microcosm of the same sort of relentless and useless drive for progress that applies to physical technology. No matter how many accounting programs come out, no matter how many upgrades need applied, no matter how many reports are generated, everyone is still doing basic double entry that has been around since the 1300s. Just with more bells and whistles.

peakfuture said...

Great post, and enthralling commentary by all.

Who is more likely to believe/agree with this line of reasoning (the end of the Internet as we know it - TEOTIAWKI!)? The technically and financially astute will see the server farms/economic picture readily, and perhaps the folks who don't need the Internet may not care.

Wiseman - no doubt, the Internet has brought some great benefits. But if it can't be sustained, then it can't be sustained, no matter how useful it is. That's the tough thing to wrap one's head around.

Mark Hines - flip phones, yes! Plus, you don't get the hunched shoulders of the smartphone crowd. If neural implants come into vogue, we'll get the 'faraway Internet look' - uh oh.

Do you think we'll see throttling of the Internet (speed/bandwidth reduction, not choking it!)? We did manage to have gas rationing during WW2, and in the '70s. Could the Internet be reasonably or fairly rationed? How will this overlap with the end of the electrical grid as we know it now?

Many folks mentioned the energy costs of the Internet and its myriad server farms (the best comment I've heard is that 'your smart phone is powered by coal'). I wonder what the *total* energy requirements are for keeping any sort of information over a long period of time (books vs. servers). Books need to be housed in somewhat climate controlled libraries, but servers need to be powered, and those hard drives do fail, so the energy costs of making them and their attendant hardware do need to be integrated.

donalfagan said...

I think that fairly soon the internet will be part of a range of modern amenities that will still be available if you can afford it. I'd include streamed programming, personal electric or fuel cell automobiles, an electric grid (supplemented with rooftop solar), etc. For a while, the better off people will have all this stuff, but the less well off either have to steal it or make do without. And making do will carry a social stigma for the have-nots and cause consternation in the haves.

I still remember bringing my wife to an Olive Garden restaurant during the great recession (before she swore off processed foods). There was quite a line, and we heard a guy saying, "So where is this recession they keep talking about?" Talk about tone deaf.

Nestorian said...

Yes, I do remember mail order catalogs. However, they are not the same as the current situation in ecommerce. The fact is that there are a multitude of ways that the internet empowers the savvy purchaser of goods and services that were absent in the days before ecommerce.

Those forms of empowerment make ecommerce fundamentally attractive in ways that the purveyors of commerce at large will be compelled to cater to for quite some time to come, I think. If that requires subsidies of some kind - i.e., some form of corporate welfare from the public purse to keep the electronic rails of commerce greased - then the purveyors of ecommerce will receive it.

Nestorian said...

Here are some unsystematic thoughts regarding ecommerce versus brick-and-mortar arrangements:

1) As I said before, using two or three gallons of fuel to purchase a single item seems a lot less energy efficient than being part of a well-organized delivery chain involving a parcel truck.

2) It also seems to me that the energy operating costs of brick-and-mortar commercial establishments must be many times higher, on a per-unit-of-merchandise basis, than the energy operating costs of an ecommerce warehouse.

3) With regard to very long supply chains, I think it is important not to overlook the energy efficiencies made possible on a per-unit basis by modern commercial shipping using very large container ships - combined with advanced logistics to efficiently consolidate goods at the point of shipment, and to efficiently disperse them at the point of unloading.

4) All of these efficiencies are enhanced to the degree that purchasers are willing to embrace delays in receiving their purchase. Moving forward, purveyors of ecommerce can encourage such patience, and take advantage of these opportunities for net-energy savings, by expanding the current gap in cost between expedited and non-expedited forms of delivery.

Nestorian said...

And here is a fifth point regarding the comparative net-energy profiles of ecommerce versus brick-and-mortar commerce:

5) As we move increasingly into a future where high-data-rate internet traffic becomes much more expensive than low-data-rate traffic, ecommerce will develop in ways that are adaptive to these developments.

For example, if it still makes business sense to operate a low-data-rate ecommerce sales platform when it no longer makes business sense to operate the many high-data-rate platforms in use today, then commerce entities large and small will surely change their platforms accordingly, rather than just go out of business.

Over the long term, such a development will also greatly ease the infrastructure requirements of the internet itself: Low data-rate ecommerce platforms will reduce the need for server farms, for the number of servers in these server farms, for the energy needed to cool these server farms, etc.

6) As far

Martin Vachon said...

About the general public Internet access. Just before going into its certain and not so far demise, it’ll certainly be cannibalized by the wealthier people at everybody else expense.
Actually, Internet Service Providers (ISP) are allowed to base their fees only on two limiting factors : speed and quantity. Let’s give an hypothetical simplified example. Suppose an ISP with a 10GB/sec capacity having two customers. Customer 1 pays for a 1GB/sec limited service and Customer 2 pays for a 10GB/sec limited service. If they both simultaneously want to download something, Customer 1 gets it at 1GB/sec while Customer 2 gets it at 9GB/sec because the ISP is not allowed to prioritize a customer when allocating its capacity.
Now, ISPs are working hard to get rules changed so they could base their fees on capacity allocation priorities. So, in my hypothetical simplified example, we would now have the Customer 1 paying for a class C service and Customer 2 paying for a class A service. With this approach, if both customers try to download something, Customer 2 gets all the capacity while Customer 1 waits for the capacity to be available.
If we put this on both ends, it’s not hard to imagine who will be the facto able to use the Internet between a low priority customer trying to access its favorite ADR blog and a wealthy porn junky.

Nestorian said...

And here is a thought regarding the comparative net-energy profiles of snail mail versus electronic substitutes:

The electronic substitute consists basically of an old-fashioned technology - email. (No, I am not being facetious.)

Fundamentally, email is a low-data-rate means of communication. And it offers a very data- and energy-efficient way of transmitting not only direct verbal communications, but documents of many varieties indirectly - via document attachment technologies. (And again, I think it is not inaccurate to call all of this an old-fashioned suite of technologies at this point.)

I just do not see "snail mail" technologies being able to compete with email technologies for quite a long time to come.

As for the subsidy issue involved here, that can be taken care of by finding ways of assessing small user fees for emails - electronic postage stamps, if you will. Like "snail" postage stamps, the cost-schedule of electronic postage stamps would be assessed on both a per-message (i.e., per-letter) and a per weight (i.e., a per-attachment-data-size) basis.

As I see it, the electronic postage-stamp principle could be used to keep email technologies and infrastructure profitable for decades to come in every sense of the term, and at a fraction of the costs involved in doing the same thing via snail mail technologies.

This is all the more the case in that email is fundamentally instantaneous, whereas "snail mail" is fundamentally non-instantaneous as a form of communication and document-transfer.

Claudia Oney said...

Thank you for the essay. As a long time reader, I have been wrapping my mind around having no (or reduced) internet for several years. But living in a world of older technology which basically ends at the edges of our little farm, I cannot walk down the road or to the feed store or call a relative to ask a question about a pest in the garden, a new calf, one of my ewes or any of the myriad little details of our wonderful life. The internet provides all the detail I could wish for within minutes for the most part.
The Ag /Irrigation/Gardening section of our local library in our little town is pretty minimal; I would have to order a book to be delivered within a week or so. Letters and phone calls would be to people I know personally and they are teachers, IT workers and all manner of civilized beings living happily and obliviously to any world changes.
My conduit to like-minded souls who see the challenges of oil limits and climate changes are almost all internet connections. So I will be so sad to lose my internet.

k-dog said...

"It’s quite possible that there will still be an Internet of some sort fifty years from now. It will connect government agencies, military units, defense contractors, and the handful of universities that survive"

Naked we came into this world and naked we depart. It is always a pleasant feeling to imagine symmetry in something if it actually exists or not. The Boeing SST did not happen but the jumbo jet did before birds returned as master of the skies.

Predicting the demise of the Internet is premature, it has much slouching towards Bethlehem to do and many torturous changes to endure before the Internet arrives at its final whistle-stop of a destination. Cost is not the show stopper you think it is. The present net may be costly but having a small HTML page uses few resources and one can be very creative with only a small bit of HTML. Imagine something like Amateur Radio Enthusiasts can put together. It will be smaller but it won't go away. That is it won't go away if the beast the present Internet evolves into will let another simulacrum survive.

William Zeitler said...

@Dagnarus said...
>That's all very well and good, but I think you forgot to take this,


Why make an 'artificial human' (android) when making a new human the old-fashioned natural way is so much more fun?

Dave Pier said...

Engaging post, as usual. I find that, when it comes to learning, the combination of speed and volume on the internet amounts to something qualitatively different from what existed before. It is especially useful when dealing with informal fields of knowledge that are polluted with a lot of speculative or shoddy information—at least if you have the skills to cull the good from the bad. Take for example vegetable gardening, which I have learned largely from the internet. Gardeners, including many veterans, propound all sorts of remedies that are, in the end, based more on metaphor than science. Many of these ineffectual techniques which presumably date back to before the web. If this were the old days, when I would have been learning mainly by mail, I'd have had to rely on whatever my few newsletters and gardening catalogs were telling me, checked against whatever published academic research I could (slowly) get from the local library. And the latter might well not deal with the specific mundane, small-scale, technical problems I was confronting. Of course I'd still be able to learn to garden—hundreds of generations did, after all—but I really think that, with the internet, I have been able to quickly skip past a lot of mistakes, which would formerly have taken years, lifetimes, or generations, to overcome. So, yes, I think something will be lost, if things play out the way you predict.

Joe Roberts said...

I don't doubt that the Internet will have a future similar to the one you've described, but please allow us some awe and pre-mourning. While it's true that the Internet allows people to do things we have always done, the scale of the difference between, say, mailing a photograph of your cat to one person vs. the ability to instantly share a real-time image of your cat with 10,000 people (or five strangers in one targeted neighborhood of Tokyo that you've never been to) is pretty enormous.

Cat photos are a trivial example, to be sure. The Internet has opened up the world. One of my personal favorites, Google Street View, allows me to see random streets in distant countries. The web has revolutionized the coming-out process for GLBT people. On and on... everyone knows what the Internet has made possible.

So, again, without doubting your future scenario, I just want to be able to grieve for this most miraculous of inventions, one of the pinnacles of human ingenuity. Even if its life is to be brief, it's been a marvel, and I'm glad my life has overlapped with its life.

Ron said...

Great article and it made a lot of sense, but there is one factor that might seriously speed up the decline of the internet; John and Jane Doe's electronic gimmick for accessing it.
How many people will be able to afford a computer or any other similar devise in 5-10 years from now? Sure, they are dirtcheap these days, but production and distribution costs will rise quite considerably soon. Income will decrease and expenses will have to do to. Food, water and shelter will always go before a computer, right?

ninabenitez said...

The Internet has become a giant sewer, like TV and radio. Look at the websites of formerly respectable, serious newspapers like The Guardian. They don't look any different from Rupert Murdoch's trashy offerings. The entire thing is built on cheap thrills and disgusting, sensationalist material. Why do people think the "Internet of Things" will be different? Your appliances will be broadcasting ads AND spying on you. Your house and car will be subject to hacker attacks. The only way to stop this will be to turn off the electricity in your house. The Internet as we know it today reflects the power structures in society.

dax said...

Might this be an early sign of what you are talking about?

Clay Dennis said...

A good example of information technology turning away from the internet and returning to an earlier form are the two arts and entertainment weekly newspapers here in Portland. It would seem that such information would be cheaply and easily diseminated via the internet, especialy since the intended audience is uber connected twenty and thirty somethings in an urban setting. Even though both these weeklies maintain advanced modern website with all the same information the circulation of these papers continues to grow while the daily mainstream subscription paper dwindles. Both papers have taken the opportunity to use some of their space for the best muckraking and political journalism in the city and have been responsible for uncovering most of the political scandals in Oregon.
It is quite a sight when the papers arrive at a local coffee shop on wednesday ( often by bike) and all the young people who were previously glued to laptops or cell phones put them down and the room becomes a sea of old fashioned newspapers.
I am Not quite sure why, perhaps because they are free ( paid for by advertising) or perhaps because their bread and butter is listings of every music or arts event for the next 7 days. These can be considerable with in excess of 100 musical acts performing on any given night so perhaps the newspaper is a better venue for purusing such listing's interspursed with adds for those acts that want more attention. Or perhaps , being somewhat countercultural the revenue from advertising things that are not welcome on mainstream sources such as canibus dispensaries, strip clubs and risque personal adds pay the bills. But I can see in the future that as the internet breaks down these weekly papers could morph in to the news of record in our locality.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I think some people will need to go to 12 step programs to help them live without their smart phones and net connectivity.

Friction Shift said...

Another thought-provoking post. No doubt you'll be pilloried by the techno-fabulists out there.

To me, it's pretty simple. In an environment in which energy is no longer cheap, technologies that use less energy to perform a particular task will be more valuable than those, like the Internet, that require huge energy inputs. Google gets this. The company has invested heavily in alternative energy production.

But even Google cannot change the laws of physics, and nobody I've read has calculated how much PV it would take to run the current iteration of the Internet. Perhaps the Internet could be run on non-fossil energy; I don't know. There's always that nagging issue of storage when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow. Maybe Tom Murphy could tackle this question over at Do the Math.

Anyway, this has me thinking of radio, AM radio in particular. I worked in the field for 25 years, and have always been amazed at the medium's resilience. It survived the onslaught of television by changing its programming, and continues to hold on in the era of the Internet via streaming. The reason? Radio, relatively speaking, is cheap. On a per-user basis, AM radio is super-cheap, especially at night.

There is a layer of particles in Earth's ionosphere called the Kenelly-Heaviside layer (after its discoverers) that has a useful quality when it is shadowed from the sun by the Earth: it reflects radio signals at the frequency used for AM radio, allowing them to travel thousands of miles. We used to call them skywaves.

That's why, when I was growing up in the midwest, I could routinely, after sundown, tune in KNX in Hollywood or WBAP in Dallas or XEROK in Juarez. AM radio is what propelled radio legend Wolfman Jack to fame: his station on the Mexican side of the border, where there were essentially no limits to the power of AM transmitters (and no cultural prohibitions on the type of music he could play), would at night cover all of North and South America.

Let's assume that Wolfman Jack's station reached the entire population of the US at night. My back-of-the-envelope calculation is that his station's transmitter required between one and two million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Newer AM transmitters are more efficient than they were in Wolfman Jack's era, so we could cut that figure by about 20%. Still, that seems like a lot of electricity.

However, the energy usage figures I've seen for the US's Internet infrastructure are nearly 100 billion -- yes, with a "B" -- kilowatt hours annually.

Add to this the fact that one can make a crude crystal radio receiver at home for less than a dollar that will pick up AM radio signals, and you have a pretty viable post-crash technology. Will it sound good? Be as cool as an i-Pad? No. Will it be good enough to receive information? Yes.

Now the techno-fabulist would argue that Wolfman Jack's border radio station was just one channel of information, and the 100 billion kilowatt hours of energy spent on the Internet buys you access to an almost limitless number of voices. The techno-fabulist would be correct. But if those 100 billion kilowatt hours were reduced to, say, 100 million kilowatt hours, the techno-fabulist would have to change his or her argument into the past tense.

Gepetto Fresh said...

In response to @Michael Parrish's assertion that the internet enhances "human evolution", I'm reminded of the sequel to Jurassic Park (the book by Michael Chrichton) entitled The Lost World. Specifically, a quote from the character Dr. Ian Malcolm:
“[..]Although personally, I think cyberspace means the end of our species."
Yes? Why is that?"
Because it means the end of innovation," Malcolm said. "This idea that the whole world is wired together is mass death. Every biologist knows that small groups in isolation evolve fastest. You put a thousand birds on an ocean island and they'll evolve very fast. You put ten thousand on a big continent, and their evolution slows down. Now, for our own species, evolution occurs mostly through our behaviour. We innovate new behaviour to adapt. And everybody on earth knows that innovation only occurs in small groups. Put three people on a committee and they may get something done. Ten people, and it gets harder. Thirty people, and nothing happens. Thirty million, it becomes impossible. That's the effect of mass media - it keeps anything from happening. Mass media swamps diversity. It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London: there's a McDonald's on one corner, a Benetton on another, a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish. In a mass-media world, there's less of everything except the top ten books, records, movies, ideas. People worry about losing species diversity in the rain forest. But what about intellectual diversity - our most necessary resource? That's disappearing faster than trees. But we haven't figured that out, so now we're planning to put five billion people together in cyberspace. And it'll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks. Everyone will think the same thing at the same time. Global uniformity. [..]”
To my mind, its an interesting perspective for a mainstream book released in 1995.

RPC said...

I've always been puzzled at the attitude of "if some is good, more must be better." Everything has costs and benefits; there's usually an optimal* solution somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and the optimum varies if the costs and benefits change. For example, I record audio and have CDs manufactured. Going from copper to FiOS meant I didn't have to burn data DVDs and ship them FedEx; OTOH, I see no need to triple my bandwidth for "only $10 more per month."

*"Optimal" here can mean "least bad" as easily as "most good!"

tom said...

As always I find this post interesting and well-reasoned. However, having studied and written about computer technology for 30 years, I see a few weaknesses in your rather sweeping generalizations. First of all, Internet technology was deliberately and carefully designed to be very scaleable indeed. It works very well within single buildings, and I use it to link the few computers in my house. No external infrastructure is needed for this. Second, Internet applications like the World Wide Web add a lot of value beyond the older alternatives you list. Tim Berners-Lee has explained those better than I could, but the main point is the "world wide" part. The Web has made it vastly easier for people all round the world to communicate and talk things over. The immense data centres you mention are certainly unsustainable, but the Internet and the Web can be scaled down almost without limit, just as ham radio can persist when giant broadcasting organizations disappear.

Leo Knight said...

Back in the 1980s, I tried to find one act plays for our community theater. I took the bus downtown to the great old Enoch Pratt Free Library, hiked up to the second floor humanities section, and found their wonderful old card catalog. Oh joy, oh bliss! They had recently converted the catalog to microfiche, but the humanities card file still lingered. Good thing, too. Most of the plays I found were listed in the card catalog, but not in the wonderful new microfiche. The librarian assured me this was not possible.

Hello... said...

Oh, i needed this!

yes, i, too feel like the "regular world" is living out a scary fairy tale vision i can't believe anyone would do on purpose.

living here in san francisco, the counter culture has been decimated. those of us left no longer like to write our ideas online, as the internet kills EVERYTHING. so we're back to meeting in person, and yeah--using the post office to write letters again.

i'd also be curious on your take on the USPS system, and it's another cliff hanger to wait for your take on the bloated academic system, too.

i can already see signing up for your "zine" or bulletin via mail so i'm not worried. those of us from the counter culture remember the best suggestions come from real people and not a digital memory "based on your previous purchases." that's instant death to ideas.

but the USPS has been selling off buildings and all this short-term thinking is going to make the long term especially fascinating.

thanks for your writing, JMG.

waiting for your weekly post reminds me of how my mom said they'd wait for the weekly installments of flash gordon. it's nice to be over 30 and this excited about anything human again.


--erika lopez

p.s. cherokee-- be nice to JMG on your foray into fiction and don't "waste" him or your feedback; fascinate the hell out of yourself before you foist your work on anyone. you have to lose your mind and your "self" while writing and be in the service of the story.

if you don't know what i'm talking about, you're not there yet. there's a thin line between self indulgence and losing yourself. when you lose yourself in the story, you yourself have been captured, transported, and are likely to take someone ELSE along, too.

then the editing comes in. but when you START with those nit picking editorial concerns, you're just passing around a corpse.

get lost. tap into god before you correct the grammar.

best wishes to you. fiction nearly killed me. talk about an addiction...ay ay ay! (i used to write/am a part of the dead mid-list authors now)

George R Fehling said...

Hello JMG and All,

The widely-held, 1960s-era belief in the inevitability of progress is very much on display in this short, behind-the-scenes film about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The NASA consultants working as production designers weren’t just making a movie – in their minds, they were designing the future, right down to the style and shape of the space helmets we would all be wearing. 2001: A Space Odyssey – A Look Behind the Future

Of course, the year 2001 turned out quite differently.

Glenn said...

Not on topic for this week's post, but of a more general nature.

Stealth Inflation

Went down to the local farm feed store for our monthly bale of straw for poultry bedding. Leon hove it into the back of my truck and off I went. Leon is a big, strong young man, and I'm always glad for his help or a forklift when loading anything heavy.

Got home, dropped the tailgate, and asked my wife to help move the straw to the hay shed. I noticed the bale was bound with only two loops of twine rather than three; when we picked it up my end was absurdly light, could have moved it easily by myself without even a wheelbarrow. Put it in the shed with room to spare. I'd guess it was about half the weight of the old bales; all linear dimensions reduced by the cube root of two.

Still cost 10 USD though. Looks like the cost of bedding just doubled for us.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Kelvin said...

One of the conditions contributing to the eventual demise of the internet is the eventual exhaustion of rare metals used in manufacturing the net's crucial components. Bellamy of Free Radical Radio referenced this BBC piece,The dystopian lake filled by the world's tech lust that brings us back to the topic of externalities and its ugly although, for us, hidden face.

ordoliberat said...

I work in the computer department of a large organization. You might be pleased to hear that I passed your article along to a co-worker and he enjoyed it. I will miss computers. I have had a fun job using them. I do wonder if they could persist at some "low-tech" level, like maybe netbooks with solid state storage. Something that would last many years and could be run for a few hours a day on battery power. Maybe we could go back to bulletin board systems hosted at smaller data centers located near hydroelectric power, with smaller amounts of data sent over phone lines.

Roger said...

JMG, this is to assure young 'uns (young guys especially) that there was life before the internet or even computers. Or smart-phones. No, really. And there will be life after if it comes to that.

Seriously, life was good. I grew up near the shore of a large lake, my friend (whose parents often spent days and weekends away) grew up in a house right on the beach.

His folks weren't micro-managers, so as long as we didn't do anything too stupid, they let our gang hang out there while they were gone. In that place we were unbothered by adults and unmolested by the law.

Picture summer nights spent on the beach around a fire, a girl beside you, listening to the radio, drinking and smoking. We also had nearby abandoned quarries as a place to go, an area where authority seldom ventured.

No cell phone, no smart device, no tablet in sight. Hadn't yet been invented. It was a long time ago.

Another thing, do yourself a favour, drop the on-line porn. Don't waste your time. Girls in real life are a constant source of bafflement and frustration but also amazement and delight, orders of magnitude better than moving images.

Most of us are not Hollywood handsome (least of all me). Life isn't fair, we're not born equal in looks, in intelligence or charm or that multitude of other measures of desirability. And chicks can be cruel to us mortals (just as we can be cruel to them) and learning what works can be painful. But don't shrink from it.

I didn't meet my wife on-line but on campus. One evening, at a gathering, a slender, astoundingly pretty girl from a far corner of the globe passed in front of me and gave one of those side-long glances. Over the next several days we kept running into one another. A friend noted the inter-action and most helpfully pointed out that she was out of my league.

Well, the unlikely has a way of happening. Not long after, she showed up at my abode and looked around and sniffed and asked, "don't you ever clean?". Yes, I assured her, as necessary. "It's necessary", she replied. An in-auspicious start but three years later I married that astoundingly pretty girl.

Don't neglect real life. Cyber-space is a pale shadow.

August Johnson said...

JMG, others – Unfortunately, the complexity of a genuine Packet Radio network, like the Internet, has helped conceal that complexity from its users. You’d have to be somebody who was actually involved in building those past packet networks, as I was, to appreciate that complexity. In the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s we enjoyed Packet radio BBS’s that rivaled the Land-Line BBS’s. They are all gone today.

Back in the early to mid 1990’s I was building and selling a Bit-Regenerator accessory that converted a TNC2 type Terminal Node Controller into a full repeater controller for Packet Radio. Using just a Microchip PIC 16C71 it provided a DCD State Machine for digital carrier detection, full bit regeneration and re-timing using a 16-bit FIFO, all programmed in software. I’m surprised to actually be able to find reference to it on today’s Internet! Notice that page is dated 2003. I doubt that repeater is on the air anymore. I actually have a few of the chips around here still but I’ve lost the source code over the years.
"The repeater is comprised of a General Electric Master II repeater, an MFJ-1270C TNC operating as an identifier, and a KG7BZ Bit-Regenerator, the component that turns a TNC into a repeater."

Hardware used for Packet Radio:
TNC2 (Terminal Node Controller) Stand-Alone microprocessor controller Made by MFJ, Kantronics, AEA, etc. Now basically obsolete and discontinued.

Network Node Firmware to run in a TNC2 TNC:
TheNet, NetROM, G8BPQ

BBS Software to run on a PC, either under MSDOS or Windows 3.1

Some old info about Packet Radio Networks, notice how many dead links these pages contain:
"Packet radio had an exponential decline within the amateur radio hobby over twenty years, and remaining users have switched to the private address space (10/8, 172.16/12, 192.168/16, etc.)."

There’s one lone network that is like the packet radio networks of the past, WinLink. Although it does mention a radio-only mode, that’s rarely used, WinLink appears to mainly be used for some 10,000 sailors to pick up their Internet email by HF Radio while at sea. It still relies on modern computers running big programs and almost totally connected to each other via the Internet for its operation.


Most packet radio and other digital mode programs today are run on a PC. Very few if any, other than WinLink, support any kind of automated store and forward. Yes, with a LOT of hard work and time by dedicated programmers, and PC’s to run the software on, a Packet Radio Network could be re-created. Old 286 and 385 based PC’s are not powerful enough to run the DSP software needed to do packet with sound cards instead of dedicated hardware (TNC’s).

I think we’re going to find that in the future a Network based on the NTS (National Traffic System) and using voice and CW (Morse Code) will be far more likely. This may not come to pass within the lifetimes of some of us, but the time to start learning how to do it is now so we can pass this knowledge on, not just at the moment when it’s needed. There is a big learning curve, just like for growing food and many other skills.

LewisLucanBooks said...

Dear JMG - I just happened to be living in S. California when the Concorde made it's last flight into LAX. Quit by accident, I was out on the freeway, that morning. The radio was following the flight path, and I just happened to be near the airport when the plane landed. It was a bit of an awe inspiring sight. The nose tipping down and giving it that "Preying Mantis" look. All the cars on the freeway pulled over ans stopped. People got out to watch it touch down. I didn't see any tears shed, but there was an "end of an era" feeling about the whole event.

These days, what inspires awe in me is seeing the blown out crater of Mt St. Helens, up close and personal. Or, when the first asparagus spear breaks through the ground. Lew

Unknown said...

A society that would pay money for such a thing pretty clearly has drool pooling in its lap.

HA! Glad I wasn't drinking/snacking when I read that line.

In case my screen name says "Unknown," I am the one that posted that rather rambling apologetic for the "I hope I'm dead" mindset a week or two ago (I'm trying to get the hang of this commenting system)

About subsidies for Internet: several of the big web players -- Google, Microsoft, Facebook -- have built, or are building, massive data farms in Iowa, and in particular in the Des Moines metro, where I live. A lot of people actually seem to buy the idea that this is some kind of real economic development, that we are going to become some kind of high-tech center.

The main reason it's happening is that we have lots of cheap electricity. The lege passed a law repealing the sales tax on electricity, and Warren Buffet, who owns the utility that serves the areas where the data farms are going, has lobbyists who make sure it stays repealed. In addition, the rubes, er um ..., I mean suburban government bodies promise massive infrastructure improvements, at taxpayer expense, to accommodate the facilities, which are massive. They easily gobble up 50-80 acres of land. To top it off, the cities hand the companies property-tax abatements that can last for up to twenty years (these places will be long gone by then, leaving ginormous white-elephant buildings and sites that are possibly full of toxic pollutants.

All of this is accompanied by breathless media coverage about how exciting it all is and all the "high-tech" jobs that are coming. There are some good construction jobs; after that, the data farms are run with maybe 50 employees.

Ed-M said...

100 comments alteady! This is popular.

As far as the death of the net goes, I think free wifi at hot spots will be the first to go.

Then the poor are priced out.

HalFiore said...

I heard on the news this morning that Goldman Sachs had partnered with some Chinese company to make a huge investment in Bitcoin. Sounds like a sure thing...

William Zeitler said...

BTW, estimates vary, but something like 80% of email traffic on the Internet is spam. (That fits with my own experience!) Yet another tragic example of the Tragedy of the Commons. Gives one pause to think how many resources are being squandered on Viagra spam, etc.

Thomas Daulton said...

JMG said: "I'm thinking here of an ad I saw recently for a Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush, which tracks your dental habits on a website and sends you text messages when you forget to brush your teeth after meals. A society that would pay money for such a thing pretty clearly has drool pooling in its lap."

The web-enabled toothbrush was the subject of satire not too long ago. Satirists, it has often been observed, increasingly have difficulty keeping up with reality.

No, really that link leads to a 22-minute podcast about an intelligent, web-enabled toothbrush, which is one of the funniest comedies I have heard in DECADES. Well worth your time to listen to.

MayHawk said...

JMG. Another great post. And it moved me to do something I have been contemplating for sometime now. Last evening I went to the web page for my online banking service and changed preferences to have my monthly Bank and CC statements sent via the postal system instead of receiving them “electronically”. I’ve decided to pay my bills by Post as well.

Overtime I have become more and more wary of the malevolent part of the internet. I’ve twice been hit with the “FBI” ransom attack. Fortunately having a Mac it was an easy cure but it did make me aware that even the glorious Mac is not invulnerable which was one of the big selling points for Mac’s in years past.

The Firewall on my Mac has an utility that tracks attack attempts to get into my machine. Those attacks now number over a thousand an hour. The internet is obviously filthy with probes looking for any vulnerability.

So I find myself becoming more “Retro” all the time. I only do a very small amount of buying online. Mostly books (all of yours I am happy to say). And I try to buy from sites that use PayPal since I think (but don’t know for sure) that it is more secure then giving my CC online.

I’ve mostly stopped using my CC as well and mostly use cash and/or check and my Cell phone is just something to have with me when I travel in case of problems. It is turned off most of the time (I have a pay-as-you-go plan).

You’ve said in other posts that a laptop without the net is just a flat paperweight. Actually though I find it a very useful tool in the offline mode. I keep my financial accounts (I’m lousy at book keeping) and 2 daily journals and a great deal of written material on my Macbook. I also occasionally watch a Dvd on it as well as I have no TV or Dvd player. But in all these task I alway have the internet connection turned off. So I am down to 30 to 45 minutes a day on my Mac and maybe 10 to 20 minutes online for email. Even now I am thinking of going back to handwritten letters by Post.

I do wonder though, that when to hard economic realities begin to bite whether Cell phones might be hit even harder and earlier then the ‘net? They are tied into the same gargantuan energy intensive server farms that also provide the net.

Michael McG said...

Arch Druid, Thank you for this topic dear to my heart. “and so the usual business plan is to provide plenty of free goodies to the public without worrying about the financial end of things”.
Yep, it will all take care of itself.
If our social order can take the plunge, the Internet is still a very new tool in human kind’s hands and offers great potentials to improve our lot over the short term by new application. Mentioned in comments is Telework.

This adaptation I believe will expand dramatically in the short future as the growing pains of LESS spreads to more.

About 10 million people per work day, drive 30 miles round trip in the United States alone (by themselves). Companies and Governments conduct much business via the Internet.

If 20% of the 10 million who drive 30 miles to work and back 5 days per week in the USA worked from home using the Internet then: 60 million miles saved per day, 20 million gallons of gas saved/day, 2 million hours of commute time, about 500 cars/day not consumed and hundreds of millions per week in real estate rent/tax not spent.

Impacts include : Automobile Industries/Supply chain shrinkage, Commercial Real-estate and Property Tax base/pension fund value erosion, lobby interest shifts, physical/mental health and neighborhood cohesion improvements.

This is not happening now but in a LESS world by nature choice options change to “Either or” instead of “ A and B and X….to infinity” .

Modern society is not used to handling tough (life support) priorities well. I expect society may improve prioritization skills through big fights leading to new political decision processes forced by harsh reality.

Moving ahead, there will be large scale breakups, institutional divorces, new beliefs/values, unexpected encounters and relations with sexy things down the hall and monsters of various sorts. All normal stuff.

Human Nature “me particulaly” is the toughest problem to deal with. In facing and handling harsh realities we are going through a normal growth process

A key purpose in progress is Survival.
Though we bounce atop Hubert’s curve there is still oodles of energy about and fun things to do with it.

Got to get cracking!
Thanks again for the lessons, insights and actionable items to better adapt.

Patrick Cappa said...

Another great essay, JMG.
An unmentioned phenomenon regarding the divesting of the internet by normal consumer folk is already underway in third world countries, and that is a intense distrust of the systems that run the internet.
Conspiracy theories and general distrust, likely brought on by companies and governments well-meaning but hare-brained attempts to control and monetize the internet, will turn people away from the internet, just as they've turned away from other large (typically) monopolized forms of commerce, like GMO's, processed foods and vaccines.
A few more sinister attempts, such as the shutdown of social network sites during the Arab spring in Egypt, have already done considerable damage, and it's likely to only get worse.
Eventually, the internet may still be alive, squirming in the dirt, gasping for breath, while everyone just walks away from it to use systems less subject to manipulation by the corrupt and failing states and corporations.

Kevin said...

While I've thought for along time that the Internet will go away sometime... (and I'll sure miss it for organising events and groups), I find it very interesting that no-one has yet mentioned the fact that porn has been and remains a huge driver of Internet development, both technically and financially - much more than you'd think for "looking at people with their clothes off". Streaming video wasn't made ubiquitous for cat videos, folks :) I wonder how much of that will continue to be so. Some googling brings up figures like 30% of internet bandwidth use is porn, (and another 30% is netflix). How many porn addicts will pay for their online fix before food & shelter? OTOH, if the net only had to handle non-porn traffic, it could be a lot smaller... and probably more expensive due to lower volume. Lots of ramifications.

Denys said...

I don't know if this would give anyone any comfort.....but when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 1990's (before the internet and cell phones), all of the volunteers in country were anywhere from 4 to 25 miles apart from each other. Most had no running water, electric or (obviously) phone service. We hitchhiked from place to place in the back of pick-ups owned by locals or rode the buses and vans which had no schedule but ran when they were full.

Despite this lack of technology, communication, and convenience, we all still managed to see each other on weekends when we wanted. We made plans several weeks and months and advance to meet-up at a particular homestead or in the capital. Everyone brought something to share to eat and we ate, and ate well. We wrote letters to each other which took over a week to go even the shorter distances, as mail pouches were thrown off the buses as they traveled down dirt roads and herd boys would pick them up to carry them to the local store for pick up.

We had a great life without the internet, telephones or electric.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@D.M.--There will never be a better time. But don't quit your day job.

If a B.S. in your resume will give you a leg up on a promotion from your current employer, you may get a return on investment within a few years. Some employers give financial assistance to employees taking work-related classes, and the work-related part isn't necessarily just for the job you currently hold.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@megpie71--I believe you are right on all points.

@Nestorian--America Online charged for data by the byte during its early years. The services it provided were email and access to in house discussion areas. I remember my excitement when I joined my first email list, for fans of an obscure TV show. I also remember asking people to trim the strings of appended posts from their replies, because receiving those recopied email strings cost me money.

Ruben said...

JMG, you drew special attention to the fact the demise of the internet would be economic not technical.

But I thought you had really dropped the ball on not pre-empting the legions of people who say (lip quivering) ...but...but...the internet is so awesome, it can never die because surely they will find a way to keep it going.

However, after all these comments I only counted one and half of that ilk. Maybe the tide is going out....

John Michael Greer said...

DM, only if you can get someone else to pay for it. Most Americans who go to college these days, and use loans to cover the cost, will lose money on the deal -- paying off the loans will cost them more than the increased income from the degree.

Ares, there are more people with ham radio licenses in the US today than there were in your father's generation, so it's still very much a live option. I do need to do another post on that sometime soon, don't I?

Raymond, glad to hear it. That'll get them going on the IOC technology project in plenty of time for my fictional timeline!

Jack, excellent! You get today's gold star for a fine bit of ecological analysis.

Mark, the grid's only essential if you want the internet to get to everyone. I expect to see the grid fragment in the years ahead, as the problems of too much interconnection intersect with service cuts to the poor, so that well-to-do areas have their own independent power systems. More on this in a future post!

Mike, film photography is already undergoing a resurgence -- another example of the rebound effect I mentioned -- and I know people who are getting into preparing their own emulsions and plates, so yes, I expect photography to survive.

Wizard, except that those outside the enclaves will probably have more in common with the Vietcong than the Amish, and the efforts of those inside the enclaves to keep control will go the way of all counterinsurgency operations. Yes, I'm including that in my vision of the future.

Chloe, I'll look forward to your Space Bats story!

MawKernewek, nah, you take a photogravure image of the cat, put it on your letterpress, and then just set type around it!

Shane, no argument there. I suspect a fair number of people will simply drink themselves to death, or what have you.

Raven, ah, but the question is how long it will stay cheap.

Miltonics, of course -- in fact, I've started looking for a multigraph or mimeograph machine in good condition.

Allan, there's always hope, even if it requires applying a five pound sledgehammer to your computer.

Bike Trog said...

Weather forecasts are convenient, but reading the sky can be informative enough. I don't get much of a sky view here, so I could climb something for a view over the trees. The cellphone towers that don't get recycled as windmills can be watch towers.

SLClaire said...

OK, so I'm connected to the Internet as I write this, and I'll likely use it at home for as long as this 14 year old computer lasts and the Internet is still being subsidized by loose capital looking for a place to multiply itself. But I still do all the same things in the same way as I did them before we connected to the Internet because I like them done the old way as well or better.

I still use paper maps to navigate; we refuse to get lost by GPS when getting lost from a paper map is so much cheaper and more fun ;-).

I type emails and blog posts, of course, but hand-write letters on paper that I send through the USPS. Recently I learned that my 12 year old nephew really likes the handmade birthday cards I send that always include a photo of my garden on the front. The kid knows just what to say to his aunt ;-).

I've kept a diary, using pen and paper, for 47 years, and keep them in a cedar chest that is pest-proof. I just need to remove whatever clutter is on top of the cedar chest to read them.

I pay bills by check and manage home finances with pencil and paper (the pencil so I can erase and correct when I make a calculation error). We get paper statements from our credit unions and balance our own checkbooks. Online banking? No thanks!

I still get paper catalogs and order things out of them by check and USPS as well as buy off the Internet. (Some of the vendors I patronize refuse to accept anything but checks and paper order forms mailed through the USPS.) Sometimes we actually shop at a store and enjoy conversation with store employees.

We still have a rotary-dial phone. Now that we have VOIP it won't make calls but it does still receive them. We use our hard-wired digital phones from the 1980s to make phone calls. The sound quality is much better than a cell phone because it just does one thing: make and receive voice calls.

I take photos with a 35mm film camera that is 33 years old as well as a digital camera; the film photos are of higher quality than the digital camera photos. I've also taken a drawing course just so I know how to do that, in case film becomes difficult to get (better take that botanical drawing course sometime ...).

I used to get obscene phone calls (who else remembers those?) and received a poison-pen letter through the USPS as recently as 10 years ago so I know just what the trolls will use when the Internet goes down. Just because your phone has caller ID now doesn't mean it always will. When it no longer has caller ID is when the obscene phone calls will begin again.

And remember file cabinets for data storage? They still work. I still have a four-drawer and a two-drawer file cabinet, and I continue to use them.

August Johnson said...

@ Friction Shift - I myself remember listening to KOMA 1520 (now KOKC), Oaklahoma City or XETRA 690 (Now XEWW-AM) in Rosarito, Baja California from Tucson, AZ at night in the 1960's and early 1970's.

It's not even necessary to run the 100,000's of watts that the Mexican stations ran or even the 50,000 watts that those US Clear Channel AM stations used.

Today there are Pirate Radio broadcasters on the Shortwave bands that often use small homemade transmitters or even old Commercial Ham Radio transmitters like the Knight T-60 made by Allied Radio in the 1960's. This will put out 10-15 watts of AM on the shortwave bands. Pirates with more money just buy Commercial Ham transmitters and make them work out of the Ham Radio bands.

A Look at the World of Shortwave Free Radio

I'm sure that this will become more popular as things break down.

HalFiore said...

RE: The Internet of ... Things!

I suspect things won't have any more money than the rest of us in the not-too-distant future. Not that I know anything...

D.M. said...

That is what I thought, I am already having to pay off quite a bit just for my associates degree that I have.

Moshe Braner said...

Re: "low-data-rate ecommerce platforms" etc.

- Until a couple of years back I was still on dial-up internet access, and it struck me how Amazon's web pages were designed to accommodate my low bandwidth. Especially since I set my software to not show images on web pages, except those I specifically wanted to see. Since then though it seems that they, and most others, have abandoned their past efforts to accommodate low-bandwidth users. This could be rolled back I suppose, if it seems worth their effort in a future where bandwidth becomes more limited again.

Which brings me to another point, that these days internet access is generally billed by the month rather than the byte. (Other than in "mobile" networks, and even there those who signed up for "unlimited data" are fighting to keep that absurd entitlement.) I find that fundamentally unfair, since that means the people like me, relatively frugal in bandwidth use, are subsidizing those who can't resist watching any kitten video thrown their way and so forth. Perhaps this cross-subsidy is actually important to the current economic survival of the internet? Will conditions change in the future so as to make by-the-byte billing more profitable to the ISPs? How would that affect the uses of the internet at that point?

This is somewhat analogous to how we're being billed for electricity. Around here, there are many people claiming that "net metering" customers are being subsidized. But my repeated claims that everybody who uses air conditioning is much more heavily subsidized are ignored. That claim of mine is based on the fact that electricity at peak demand times (hot summer afternoons) is much more expensive than at other times, often more expensive at wholesale than the retail rate. And yet, we are being billed at a constant rate, even now that we've collectively invested a gazillion dollars to equip every house with a "smart meter", with the stated aim of allowing variable rate billing - which hasn't happened. It seems that there is a political force preventing that? I know they do have variable rate billing in some places (California?), but not here in Vermont.

Allan Stromfeldt Christensen said...

John Michael,

I like your thinking. Rather than sell or give away my (rather pricey) video camera, several years ago it ended up getting in the way of the blunt side of an axe. Its remains ended up coming in handy a few years later for a glamour shot on the front of my website.

Regarding computers, I got rid of mine years ago and generally only use those at libraries. Although machine smashing is no longer a capital punishment, I'll obviously veer away from anything more than tapping away on their keyboards. A friend of mine did however recently give me his old iPhone 4 for free though (which I used as a test for adapting my website to mobiles – but which I have no SIM card in, and so no phone number), meaning that with ubiquitous free wifi around, another "hit" is just a reach to the pocket away.

Decisions, decisions.

Kutamun said...

In Australia the internet has become a political football of gargantuan proportions . The lefties basically wanted to lay a fiber optic cable to every door at a cost of gazillions while the murdoch
backed neocons ( who also monopolise televised sport and pay tv ) were and are desperate to avert this . Progress has been slow and various forms of sabotage evident .Because we are geographically vast , it makes sense for us to have it to alleviate the necessity to travel and to allow our security apparatus to monitor the populace in the hinterlands . Our path must necessarily diverge and be very different from the US, with a small population and vast resource base , we could and are still throwing enormous resources at the net , not for much longer though i suspect .
Perhaps it is a horribly disfigured " rainbow serpent " that we are creating ?

pygmycory said...

One reason people in precarious jobs may be unwilling to give up internet and assoc. devices even when they can't really afford it is its portability. If you keep having to move from a bedroom in a shared house to a room in another house that is possibly in another city a) you have little space to amass books and other items and a laptop or tablet takes up relatively little, b) it is easy to take with you when you're forced to move again and c)your friends can still contact you without dealing with phone and address changes so you don't lose contact with people. It is much the same issue with cellphones.

This doesn't mean the service will be available, or that it will be affordable, but it does mean people in those types of situation will probably hang onto it as hard as they can.

Caryn said...

Thanks, JGM:

Once again, the thing I like most about your essays is the rational, realistic thought, including the pesky details conventional wisdom refuses to think about; e.g.: Internet/computers - what about the cost? It's always seemed bizarre and out of whack, to me, that these incredible devices that hold so much specific finely tuned technology, a rare combination and precise configuration of rare-earth and other materials should to the end-users, (us) be so utterly cheap and available. I mean it just seems like it should cost more, right? Or the decision in the long term to make the with 'planned obsolescence', using very finite resources! A real noggin-scratcher.

Many families I know both here and in the US feel very left behind if their 7 year old doesn't have their own smart-phone, iPad and laptop. The kids break them, they replace them, again and again and again. Most have the iPad by age 3. The ability to do this doesn't make financial sense to me, ( not to even BEGIN with the parental decision to soma-tize them with these brain-draining 'drugs'). RE: the socialization issue - it can't disappear fast enough IMHO.

And no, it doesn't sound plausible that the internet (like every other measure of global collapse) will just one day crash. Boom! Gone! Walking Dead! It makes much more sense that it will stair-step down, like it stair-stepped up. Govt. Military and big businesses and some wealthy individuals will get to keep it, in some form or another. The poorest will lose it altogether first, (if they ever had it to begin with).

Certainly, for the semi-poor/working classes, middle classes, there will be more 'Cyber-Cafes' in towns and cities charging minimally for rented time and use. That will ease the withdrawal symptoms, I think. (( We have a US home base/retirement home in a tiny 900 person town in WY. Most folks use the local Cyber Cafe on Main Street for any online business they need and are connected face to face only - they do just fine)). My prediction is that next: the young, the artists and hipsters/cool-kids will find other cool things to do and the mainstream will, as they always do, follow. Reminds me of the teens you wrote about bicycling around town for fun instead of 'cruising' in cars, a few posts back. Have you ever seen those BMX bikers doing flips and jumps - pretty wicked cool, but not a patch on the, (even lower tech) Parkour acrobats.

OTOH: I too will miss these discussions as well as being able to easily look up texts and videos on "How to make your own lye" & "Prickly Pear Shampoo Recipes" or "Know your Kiln". I don't know how available that will be in future. Looking as much up now as I can!!!

Also: Happy Labor Day Everyone.

Caryn said...

On another note: I had a very long device free conversation with my 14 year old last night.He grew up in this tech-age and can't imagine life without the internet or without progress to more along the same path.

His favorite class is world religions at present and he is most intrigued by the Mystic branches, (roots?) of each major religion, (and ancient religions); the practices and meditative channels to 'connect with the divine', the overwhelming similarities of each, the immense (to our current lifestyles) discipline taken to achieve these connections, especially Hindu Yogis.

He came to the conclusion that this mysticism and 'communication with the divine', things we would consider fantasy or supernatural these days, was in fact real - but that in our hyper-overload of sensory intake, we just can't build the muscle to do it anymore.

I had to agree: I can see a small crude example of this in smart-phone connection and our inability to simply remember phone numbers, or remembering directions vs. GPS. We don't have to so we don't. That 'muscle' in our brains atrophies until we actually can't anymore.

For everything gained, there is something lost, eh?

jonathan said...

i am reading an interesting book relevant to this topic: The End of Absence by michael harris. one of the most striking assertions the author makes, strongly supported by evidence, is that the constant connectivity fostered by electronic gadgetry causes real, physical changes in the brain. this is consistent with other research that found similar changes in the brains of people who watch many hours of television. the results include ADD type symptoms, inability to defer gratification and superficiality in thought process.
loss of internet access seems likely to have dramatic effects on people who have become dependent on it. not only will they lose something that absorbs many hours of their time, but with their brains rewired by extensive resort to electronic stimulation, they may find themselves unable to focus enough to use older technologies.

i don't go to movies anymore. when attention deprived people have to use their phones during the film, my mind turns to thoughts of murder.

Eric said...


I think you have it about right about the costs and complexities of our networked world. I am also continually shocked by the poor quality of much major label software out there. Clearly the 'providers' are deepening their reliance on the extortion business model, and making less and less of a show of customer service. Personally I use the internet mostly to while away the idle minutes while I am visiting my job.

Here is a link to my story for your 1000+ year contest.

John Michael Greer said...

Dagnarus, good. With regard to your first serious point, it'll depend on how much traction the rebound away from the internet gets in the near future. With regard to your second, exactly -- although I'm far from sure space travel would ever have brought in more resources than it consumed. And as for meat women, I don't pine for them at all, having been happily married to one for getting on for 31 years now.

Vilko, of course the internet saves you money and gives you all kinds of free services. If you'll take the time to read my post, you'll find that I addressed that -- and the temporary investment bubble that's driving it.

Megpie, nicely summarized -- and yes, I remember fiber optic lamps. I know, my age is showing.

Meg, granted, but there's a difference between having to be careful where on the internet you speak your mind freely on controversial subjects, and having to weigh the risk of having your bank account cleaned out and your identity stolen if you have internet access at all.

Fudoshin, good heavens, keep the gold star -- I have way too many of them around the place as it is. You have every right to disagree with my choice of a topic, just as I have every right to harrumph and keep on writing about whatever bat-witted notion happens to pass through my head.

Betsy, interesting. BTW, was "catatonic collapse" a deliberate joke or an accidental one? Either way, it's a keeper.

Otto, well, yes, that's probably a topic for the other blog.

Margfh, it'll be interesting to see what happens when more and more people get forced offline by price rationing -- and are still supposed to use the internet to access the government. It might be a very convenient way of creating a population of legal nonpersons.

Professor D., by all means see if you can find a copy of Russell's book on the subject -- it's well worth reading. He covers in great detail how the myth of the flat earth was invented, and used to make premodern cultures look stupid so we can look smarter.

Mister R., the cult of atomization is a huge issue, not least because it leaves so many people unable to interact with others in a constructive way in crisis. My guess is that a lot of people will either break out of it, or die -- and yes, I mean that latter quite literally.

Electricpants, maybe I should plan on an annual Archdruid's Almanac, with planting tips, recipes, instructions for gardening by the moon's signs, and the like!

Peakfuture, if we're going to see the internet throttled, I want to have my hands around its throat. ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Donalfagan, that seems quite plausible to me.

Nestorian, the mere fact that the internet is more convenient doesn't make it affordable, especially in a world where ongoing economic contraction and resource depletion are clamping down. All the points you've made about the internet can be applied equally well to the US road and highway network, and that's falling apart right now. Our current economic system doesn't work by giving consumers what they want; it works by coercing or cajoling them into buying whatever makes the most profit for industry -- and when the internet finishes its expansion phase and has to make a profit, a great many of the features that make being online bearable will go away in a hurry.

Martin, makes perfect sense to me. That's why there will be a print version of the Report down the road, when those limits start to bite.

Claudia, in that case, now's the time to start establishing the networks of communication and support that will help keep you going when you've been priced out of internet access.

K-dog, er, did you somehow manage not to notice that I was talking about the economic viability of a future internet? As I noted in the post, the technical challenges are modest; the question is how your simple website is going to pay its share of the costs of a future internet. It's a source of wry amusement to me that so many people hear that and then go on talking as though the words had never been said at all...

Dave, I learned to garden before the internet existed. I've also watched people learn how to garden in the age of the internet, and it takes them about the same amount of time to get good at it as it took me and the other novice organic gardeners I knew at the time. As for your claim that books and newsletters are full of inaccurate data and the internet isn't -- er, you must not be using the same internet I am, because the internet I use is riddled with misinformation and nonsense on any subject you care to name.

Joe, I don't share your fondness for the internet -- quite the opposite, I find it unpleasant, and use it only because that's how you keep a writing career going these days. I certainly won't argue if you choose to mourn its passing, but I won't be mourning with you.

Ron, yes, that's also a factor. My guess is that it'll go in waves, starting from the poorest end of society and working up from there.

Nina, if you can afford to have power in your house at all...

Dax, yes, I saw that! It's a very good example of the rebound effect, yes.

Clay, that's very good to hear -- and, yes, I expect such things to become major channels for information exchange in the not too distant future.

Justin, I'm surprised that those haven't sprung up yet.

Marinhomelander said...

Get teenagers to use the post office to send secret messages to each other, enclose pictures, flowers, notes etc, for the price of a stamp and you have a working technology.

John Michael Greer said...

Friction Shift, true enough. Talk to an experienced ham radio operator sometime about skywaves and bouncing signals off the layers of the ionosphere; it's a fine art much practiced these days, especially now that QRP (really low power transmissions -- five watts or less) have become the cutting edge of ham-radio cool.

Gepetto, fascinating. He's quite right, of course; the internet is among other things a very powerful tool for eliminating cultural and intellectual diversity.

RPC, excellent! That observation about the real meaning of the word "optimal" gets you tonight's gold star.

Tom, now go reread my post and notice where I said that I was talking about economic rather than technical viability. That applies to issues of scale as well. Can an internet be scaled down technically to whatever scale you want? Of course. Does it make any kind of economic sense to do so below a fairly large threshold size? Not a bit. If you have a community of a few hundred people and limited resources, it would be idiotic to waste those resources on a micro-internet when you could apply those resources to more pressing needs and get the necessary information flow using a real bulletin board -- you know, the kind with thumbtacks and slips of paper -- a library, and perhaps a weekly newsletter.

Leo, when I was at the University of Washington, you could go up to the fourth floor and find all the old books that had been bought before they switched to the Library of Congress system. The librarians hadn't recataloged them in the new electronic system, or assigned them LoC numbers; they sat up there, forgotten by almost everyone, with their card catalog along one wall. I found some of the most astonishing things there. I have no idea if they're still there; my guess is they've been purged, in the ongoing struggle to erase the past that absorbs so much effort in contemporary American culture.

Hello, you're welcome and thank you! I'm not sure how much of the current USPS will survive the next few rounds of political and economic crisis, but postal systems are fairly easy to set up -- Ben Franklin managed it very nicely using 18th century technology, after all -- and there are also informal workarounds. More on this in a future post.

George, thank you! That's a great anecdote.

Glenn, yeah, costs keep going up; good thing inflation's under control! ;-)

Ordoliberat, if that's going to happen, someone who knows computer technology is going to have to get working on it now. You might consider taking it on as a personal challenge.

Roger, thank you. I was 29 before I first encountered the internet, while finishing up my degree; I dropped off it again as soon as I graduated, and didn't return to it until my writing career required it, most of a decade later -- so I can affirm everything you've said.

August, thanks for the detail! I knew I could count on you. ;-) For what it's worth, I think you're right about the National Traffic System -- as I've noted here more than once, that has all the features necessary for a durable and resilient long-distance communications net.

Lew, I'll certainly agree about the asparagus. We've had two side dishes of fresh homegrown asparagus so far this spring, with a third shortly on the way, and for a culinary sense of awe, it's hard to beat.

John Michael Greer said...

Unknown, that's a good point; not all subsidies are direct ones.

Ed-M, I suspect that free WiFi will still be offered at places where well-to-do people go -- and it'll be password protected so that the poor can't horn in.

HalFiore, what could possibly go wrong? Gah...

William, I'd heard the same thing.

Thomas, being a satirist in today's America has got to be one of the toughest jobs imaginable. How do you stay ahead of the absurdities of everyday life?

MayHawk, excellent! As for cell phones, good question -- I don't know anything like enough about them to be able to hazard a guess.

Michael, telecommuting keeps being proclaimed as the wave of the future, and somehow it never takes off. I wouldn't invest too much energy in it.

Patrick, and since distrust of the government and corporate systems that run the internet is entirely justified these days, and indeed has survival value, I suspect you're quite right.

Kevin, I've been told that it's one of the secrets of the history of photography that pictures of people with their clothes off were a major source of revenue for a lot of early photographers -- for that matter, go look at the number of pictures of naked women in any good collection of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and you can see that the same thing was true of oil painting. My guess is that when historians of the far future write about the internet, they'll say that it was a medium for pornography -- oh, and it got some use for other purposes, too, now and then.

Denys, true enough. I've lived without electricity, phone service, or running water, and had a fine time of it.

Ruben, yes, I was surprised at that, too. I was expecting to see many more people with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement -- "I want it, what do you mean I can't have it?" If that's fading, it's none too soon.

Trog, you can do a pretty good job with a barometer and an outside thermometer, too.

SLClaire, excellent! Those are skills worth having.

HalFiore, funny. True, but funny.

John Michael Greer said...

DM, in that case I'd encourage you to wait until the rubble finishes bouncing. It may not be long.

Moshe, heck of a good question -- or series of questions. There's also the question of how advertising revenue will fare in a time of prolonged economic contraction, among other things.

Allan, I saw that! It was definitely heartwarming.

Kutamun, interesting. It'll certainly be convenient for your future Chinese overlords.

Pygmycory, I expect all kinds of people will cling to the internet, for good and bad reasons, until they can't cling any longer. Here again, though, collapsing first and avoiding the rush is a good strategy.

Caryn, cybercafes will be useful for the urban and suburban poor. A lot of poor Americans, though, live in rural areas that don't have much internet access now. For them, I expect it'll simply be a matter of no internet at all. Your 14 year old is right, by the way; there's a reason why silence and isolation are so crucial in spiritual practice.

Jonathan, I expect a significant number of people who lose internet access to be so completely unable to cope that they don't survive long. It could get very ugly. Fortunately, as you can experience via a media fast, the brain recalibrates to the real world given some time to do it.

Eric, your link didn't come through -- can you repost?


Forest Farmer said...

I’m not sure computer use is popular because it is cheaper. I think it is popular because it is faster. Fully amortizing the lifecycle cost of owning a computer, software and ongoing support services are likely to drown-out to insignificance the cost of doing the same things with paper and pencil, postage stamp or ledger book. If productivity has seen any improvement, it is because of off-shoring most externalities and reduced the number of bookkeepers in the world. In fact, a quick search of that same old Internet will show an array of studies that call into question if computers have actually increased productivity at all.

Personally, I think speed is overrated. "The speed of doing business" has just added stress to our lives. Back before cell phones, I was required by an employer to wear a beeper. I found it quite irritating, mainly because the whole point was – if you are beeped – it must be urgent. Stop what you are doing and answer it NOW! Well, in three years of wearing it, not once was a call so urgent that it would have made a spit of difference if it had waited even to the following day! Cell phones aren't much different.

Not only the Internet as a whole, but the computer itself that you are reading this on have incredibly complicated supply chains. Special sand from Africa, shipped to Germany for refining into purified silicon, shipped to China and combined with rare earths from Russia, grown into crystals, (a process, by the way, that basically requires the creation of artificial lava under exacting temperature control), assembled into finished products and further shipped to the four corners of the world. And talk about complicated technology, the processing of computer chips now requires clean rooms that have less dust than outer space, because the functional elements are smaller than visible light! With each new shrinking of the chips, they have to make a whole new factory, (Fab in computer jargon) at a cost of $5 Billion or more. And for all that, are they reliable? I have a perfectly functional mechanical typewriter that is 50 years old. If you could not replace your present computer in-whole on a regular basis, how long do you think it would last? Sorry to say computers may be museum pieces to my late decedents, if there is still a livable environment for them. We do live in interesting times.

Vic Postnikov said...

Thank you JMG for this technico-economical analysis of the impending demise of Internet. I would suggest that, apart fromn economics, there is a more sinister role of Internet. And that's destruction of human psyche. Who will perish first, it's hard to tell. but the race between machines and humans has begun.

In 1995, while visiting the America House library in Kiev, I had discovered on the shelf of newly arrivals a book by Stephen Talbott “The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in our Midst" (O’Reilly, 1995). Having skimmed over a few pages, I couldn’t tear myself off the book. All my experience accumulated for years, all fears and insights regarding “the technique” – particularly, computers –were studied and described in detail by Talbott.
By that time, I was reading the course “Energy and Ecology” in Kiev Polytechnic and had arrived to a firm belief in the destructive character of technology against personality, nature and society; I saw that people increasingly began to substitute their humane goals with the solutions of purely technical problems. In attempt to share my fears with the colleagues, students and friends, everywhere I would bump into a bewilderment, incomprehension, and sometimes sincere enmity; eventually, I became alienated from my work, and generally, from “progress”.
Particularly, I sensed the negative effect of computers on human health. Having spent a considerable time in front of the computer, I spoiled my sight, and earned a host of other illnesses. I noticed that human functions had been ousted by computers in all conceivable and non-conceivable areas, in the institutions, and above all, in schools. I saw as managers of all levels had assigned work with computers to young workers, knowing that such work demands huge physical and psychic effort. I clearly understood that a gradual destruction was taking place of personal communication, degradation of psyche, human qualities and language. To resist this plague was already a huge challenge.
And at that very moment, I saw Stephen Talbott’s book. Having read it in one gulp, I decided to translate it and publish. But all publishers declined to publish the book, saying : How come? We have a computer boom, you can’t criticize! Meanwhile the problem was becoming more grave. My own children became obsessed with computers, whereas my attempts to limit their “sitting” were futile. Must confess, I’m very pessimistic about the future.
I would highly recommend the teachers of primary schools to read the book. It allows to look inside our souls and ask a troubling question: what qualities we, humans, can actually, set off against computers?
As long as we are able to raise these questions, there is a little hope. Otherwise we don’t have it.

Katy H said...

JMG & James
"bricks through windows - a fine old tradition" - yes. indeed. One of the few cheery incidents in the sorry saga of the Royal Bank of Scotland was that somebody threw a brick through the Edinburgh house window of the blighter who had run RBS up to that point. It was a dreadful scandal of course; I mean the brick, not the gentleman seen running away legally with millions of pounds.

Some of us can get quite nostalgic for networks. We have legacy networks in Britain from when we urbanised early; like water, sewage, transport, health systems (before that we regularly got cholera in our free-market choice days). Britain also needed a world food network since before 1850, and we still do as we cannot feed ourselves: that is straight calories, never mind the modern supermarket shelves.

We still needed an Empire after we lost ours. And we still needed those intercontinental copper cables to make global-reach work. The internet now uses optic fiber under-sea for much the same purposes. I hear that we Brits are going to take out our on-shore legacy copper that connects all UK homes to the whole thing (telephone) and wonder if maybe optic fiber will not be quite as resilient or future-proof.

But worse still, we throw away our social collective way of making our networks universal (well... sort of universal... in Britain). Here is a good bit of local British analysis

Psychic shock of losing facebook etc might not be the worst experience for coming generations.


Kyoto Motors said...

Yeah... the airline industry will probably lead the way with a rapid down-scaling. The death of the Concorde trans-Atlantic service was just a harbinger...
As industrial systems disintegrate, it is the entitlement that the general public hangs onto well after access is no longer available.
This is where the discord begins. With the internet, people have made a huge psychological investment, associating their ideals like democracy and freedom with the instant gratification found online.
Of course, to the extent that we enjoy democracy and freedom, these do not vanish with the disappearance of the internet. So after a period of outrage, life will go on!

fudoshindotcom said...

By all means "Harrumph" away!

The anonymity provided by the internet leaves far too few on-line forums where an opinion can be expressed without receiving many less than civil responses. One of the reasons this one is a rare gem.

Mister Roboto makes a valuable point in that, when used as a buffer between people, The internet presents a communication barrier which may be difficult to overcome.

In my opinion one of the most dangerous and damaging concepts humans employ is creating a distinction between "Us" and "Them", allowing for the de-humanization of others. Thinking in such terms seems always to lead to bad outcomes. As the internet has a massive potential for facilitating this kind of thinking, I will most happily take over throttling it when your hands get tired.

Erica H said...

The loss of the internet would hurt, at least the loss of blogs like this one, and podcasts which I enjoy. But thinking about it, my husband and I are already close to dispensing with it, all it would take would be even more intrusive surveillance/censorship, somewhat higher prices, or pervasive crime that affected us in an obvious way. In short if the negatives already in place were slightly worse we'd abandon net service this very moment. It wouldn't take much.

We used to post about our homesteading adventures online but we found that everything we really wanted to share was illegal -to borrow a Salatin phrase - so that took the fun out of it. Self censorship.

I notice significant addictive behaviors sneak in with the internet in my household. Observing my relationship to it I am reminded of the good old One Ring.. I don't really NEED it, as long as I know it's in my pocketses. That said, when I go without it for a few days I cease to require it nearly as much, and I stop thinking about it.

I guess there will always be people writing great things and telling great stories and THAT is what I really love, not necessarily the medium by which I get them. The Archdruid Report in my mailbox would be lovely. I will be adding my name and address to the Green Wizards Member Directory directly.

On a different topic I greatly appreciated your not so subtle Princess Bride reference. Unless I am wrong, and I am never wrong, they are headed dead into the Fire Swamp...

Ray Wharton said...

I have a new computer! Well I am borrowing one, when mine broke 3/5 people who heard offered me an old one for free. Factoring in many people ditching the technology all together I am trying to figure out how deep our obsolete computer reserves are. Of course it is the connections that are tricky.

Considering that there is much that is useful about the internet it is a shame that there is little motive to maintain a narrow band network. Think of those data centers, now think of them if they were only managing text and a few images. Alas, I don't think this room to down shift will be utilizable for the vast majority of people. Still, I would not be surprised to see the remains of the internet being used years from now. Imagine posting TADR to a service using internet remains to get it to the couple dozen regional publishers that make prints for different regions... you know something like that nerd rigged together in a hurry.

I got a former singularity fan friend who is now very excited about cyber punk, picture grungy early 90'2 technology lovingly preserved with new software and plugged into any transmitter that can pulse. Right now he is working on some linux software to do the work, and lord knows other project do come along, still I always thought the cyber punk dream made better stories than the investment powered net.

I guess that what I am suggesting is that various cyber punk networks could stay online for decades, available to those who know which appartment to knock on for a modest fair and a bit of desecration.

Also this:

Honyocker said...

The total faith people have in progress and the internet baffles me. A small town near to where we live was convinced to put all of the town records on the "cloud". I didn't think that was such a bad idea, but then when the digitizing was complete, they shipped all of the paper records to the recyclers. All to gain two rooms of storage space in the town hall. I glad I don't live there.

hapibeli said...

I wonder how many externalities are created by this process?

Thomas Prentice said...

JMG, are YOU the one who was prophesized?

"....some kind of druid dude, lifting the veil..."

-- John Lennon, Imagine


Pinku-Sensei said...

A Blessed Beltane and Happy May Day to all!

@Roger "I didn't meet my wife on-line but on campus...Don't neglect real life. Cyber-space is a pale shadow."

I agree that cyberspace is a pale shadow, but I've found it to be very useful as dress rehearsal for real life. Just about everything I ever wanted to do in real life, I was able to put it in practice online first, then transfer into the rest of my life when I felt ready. This includes my love life, where I found more suitable mates than I did in person. I was able to take my time and achieve a better understanding of them in a low-risk environment before I ever approached them. Consequently, I wasn't fooled by looks or superficial charm, although I did end up with good-looking and charming women just the same. I also found that I was more interested in women relatively far away from me, which meant that I was involved in long-distance relationships that required communications technologies to maintain. This was true even of my ex-wife, who I met before either of us got on the Internet and lived 60 miles away, so we did a lot of phone communication while we were dating. I met both the girlfriend I dated between marriages and my current wife online. Both lived more than 250 miles away at the time, which meant that I used the Internet a lot while dating. In retrospect, I probably wouldn't have gotten together with my ex-wife if I had met her online; she didn't express herself well in writing. That would have saved me a lot of trouble; there are reasons she's my ex-wife! I was much happier with my ex-girlfriend, even though that ended badly, and even happier with my wife. I don't know if I have such good fortune without being able to cast a wider net through the Internet.

That reminds me of a topic our host talked about last year--the wandering of peoples and the formation of new ethnic and national identities. Yes, people may migrate long distances, but once that is done, I expect their horizons will shrink dramatically. I suspect that most people in the post-oil future will not travel more than 20 miles, much as they did before the Industrial Revolution.

On the topic of both May Day and my love life, I leave you all with a photo of my ex-girlfriend and some of her friends dancing around a maypole while performing with a drum and bugle corps. Unfortunately, I can't tell which one is her, but she's there.

Yucca Glauca said...

JMG, I hope the comment about an Archdruid's Almanac was serious--I would certainly buy it.

Marinhomelander, I'm a couple years past teenager now, but when I was in high school, sending paper letters was the cool kid thing to do, at least in the groups I hung around. It wasn't motivated by any worries about resource depletion and letters were usually heralded by text messages saying, "I sent you a letter! Did you get it yet?" It was just so much "fancier" than Facebook messages and the like, and several of us noticed that taking the time to write real letters made girlfriends or would-be-girlfriends feel special, and that scored points in our favor.

When we all graduated, we got more serious about it, and several of us have stayed in contact through mail. I've met a few other people at college who had the same story.

MindfulEcologist said...

Though this falls into the "Amazon has amazing revenues" bucket they did just release some figures to give some insight into just how big the AWS operations are. It is the first time they broke out the revenue and profit figures for that part of their operations. As a friend of mine said, that is a lot of cloud.

Also wanted to be sure those interested saw a new book about our interstellar future received a review by the NYT, which I think is interesting in itself. It is not behind their pay-wall.

Roger said...

I can't remember if I mentioned this previously but I've read that in the late 19th and early 20th century rural people were hooking themselves up to telephone co-operatives using simple telephone sets with the barbed wire fences that criss-crossed their areas serving as the mode of transmission.

The systems varied widely. In some systems, if you tried to ring someone up, you rang up everybody that was hooked up. Of course all kinds of people you didn't want to talk to picked up the phone. You had to shout out the name of the person you wanted. Everyone else had to hang up (or not hang up if they wanted to eavesdrop).

The system could also be used for entertainment as people could listen in, for example, as others played musical instruments.

Some had switchboards that were run out of somebody's kitchen or the local general store. Some had small yearly user fees.

The point is that simple communications systems don't need to be run by intrusive mega-corporations.

The point is also that if, and more likely when, our existing systems sputter and go dark, something simpler and less costly can get up and running. It's just that you may not be able to watch the latest talking dog or barking cat video from Japan.

pygmycory said...

I know I spend too much time on the net. That said, I think my net use peaked in 2012, and one of my goals for this year is to spend significantly less time on the net than last year. So far, I'm doing quite well on that, even if I still spend too much time on it.

pygmycory said...

Ad revenue has gone down significantly for small websites because google pays far less per click, and also because google changed the search algorithm in ways that make it harder for small sites to attract traffic. I used to make some money that way, but now it is less than the cost of the sites. I'm not the only person I know who's had that happen to them, either.

Ben said...

JMG - A bit off topic but you did touch on it. I've heard that some of the protestors/rioters in Baltimore have started to call themselves rebels. I've visited Baltimore many times and have friends that live there. You live in Maryland. You have also stated that you expect a domestic insurgency to begin in this country sometime soon. I don't want to get too sensational, but do you think the fissure of law enforcement vs. citizens of color might be the fault line that sparks a domestic insurgency? I personally had thought it would be white southerners wanting to relive the civil war, but I don't think they've been driven to that level of desperation yet. People in the inner city, on the other hand, may have reached that point after four decades of collapsing first and avoiding the rush...

kayr said...

Some years ago before the internet became really easy to use a friend of mine created a newsletter that she mailed on a regular bases to those who subscribed. The content was important and thoughtful for the community she started it for and included many letters/articles written by her readers. I looked forward to reading it each month. Once the internet took off, she stopped producing it. She also moved onto to other things that she makes available on the net.

She didn't have a mimeograph, but used copiers and a very small screen printing press to produce the newsletter. I don't see why something like the Archdruid Report couldn't be produced via mechanical means financed with paid subscriptions. I would be willing to subscribe.

RUKidding said...

I have worked with technology at work since the '70s, as information professional/IT type. It is only recently that I bought my first "computer," which is an IPad bundled cheaply with my expensive SmartPhone. I rarely use the IPad, and I use the SmartPhone sparingly & have a very low data storage amount, which I'm constantly being asked to increase in size (not needed; I just delete stuff).

I do use the Internet a lot at work, but mainly it's for email and/or legit research purposes. I teach people how to use the Internet for certain purposes, which can be useful.

I've always been skeptical of GPS systems; they often don't work correctly. I do use the Internet to print off maps and use them to find my way. Albeit I must admit that - with reluctance bc I know the NSA or someone is tracking me - I do refer to my SmartPhone maps function sometimes to figure out where I am going.

I use computers at work for certain financial functions. That's because we have a much more secure firewall & malware, but I realize that NOTHING is secure and proceed with caution.

That said, I do like to blog here and there. And I will miss Smartphones when traveling. They are helpful devices but expensive.

Other than that I prefer to read print books. My old eyes don't like to be on a computer screen at home after doing so most of the day at work. Enough is enough.

I chucked out my tv years ago and listen to radio sparingly. I'm busy; don't need lots of gizmos and gadgets and tv shows (even high quality ones) to distract me. Would rather spend my money attending live performances or going to movies - although I am growing ever closer to going mental on my neighbors who simply cannot get off their *&^% phones at the movies, at the symphony, at the theatre, at the ballet, etc. It's crazy. Spending upwards of $100 on some entertainment, and then there's these pinheads in the audience enthralled with their stupid phones. Go home and read your *&^% phone there.

I have acquaintances whom I believe to have serious addiction issues with their phones. And I witness in public places how often the phone absolutely supersedes any and all face to face human conversations and interactions. It's not just younger people; it's everyone. If that *&^% phone rings, boyohboy!! It's gotta be answered PRONTO! I envision wedding ceremonies being interrupted at the crucial juncture with the bride, groom or both having to answer their *&^% phone before agreeing to marry the human being standing next to them. Wouldn't surprise me in the least if it's happened already.

Sigh. I think the Internet will go out with whimper, not a bang. Already there is a digital divide in our nation (and elsewhere), where the poor have limited access. Access is likely to become more expensive and for a while some percentage of the populace - those who are super addicted and they are out there - will pay and pay and pay for it.

Others, like me, will wean away gradually and not notice much difference except when attempting to drive somewhere new at night where the *&^% streets signs are either non-existent or so small as to be worthless.

Interesting article and comments. Thanks. Happy May Day. Workers of the World Unite!

latefall said...

I really have a hard time reading some of these comments, so I'll do a bit of party-pooping.
I'll try to keep it short:
"You may care about politics, but politics cares about you."
This is also true of technologies. If you wonder why something is so damned cheap, it is probably because you just do not understand its price. And yeah, externalization can include you.
Unfortunately I'm not sure the people in question know who I mean.
So if this does not make you grin, but rather frown please have a look at the link below.
"The Web Is Not The Net."
It'll probably be 10 well spent minutes (without counting pauses and reruns).
Also, please feel free to check out and dismantle my earlier comments on this issue. And I would REALLY appreciate if someone closer to a modern fab (or perhaps the military) would pipe up on this issue - although to be honest I can understand if you feel you have better things to do.

@JMG: Nice post, but I think it is important to keep in mind that the USA (consumers and producers) have a very "special" relationship to the net. Your consumer market is pretty "broken", and that is by far not the largest issue.

Steve in Colorado said...

As usual, an interesting and tough provoking post JMG. Two quick thoughts on the internet:

First, like many things which have become more available, having facts/info pop onto the screen at the touch of a button has "cheapened" the value of information (regardless if that info can be biased, misleading or outright lies). Back when one had to truck on over to the library, and then spend hours digging for the information yourself, that found info had a greater value and usually higher quality.

Second, I have thought for some time that a possible interim solution to the private internet going dark would be to have the USPS take it over. At least for the email part and perhaps private browsing. The USPS could become everyone's ISP, for a fee of course. Not a permanent solution, but it might drag a decade or two more life for us private individuals.

Eric S. said...

I’d been looking forward to this week’s essay quite a lot, since the real resource demands of the internet are such a difficult thing to explain to people. It feels like most of the people I encounter, even the most grounded among them just can’t get past the idea that the internet is floating around in an alternate dimension somewhere completely divorced from the laws and demands of the physical world. I wasn’t disappointed, and I thank you for this excellent overview of the internet as a piece of technology with real physical constraints and real costs. Of course, I also hadn’t expected to be quite so distracted by the sounds of cold wet reality mackerels flopping on the ground outside my balcony. I’d actually half expected a brief departure from the usual schedule this week, but it’s easy to forget that outside my area life is going on in its own normal ways with no interruptions. Still, when you’re out on your balcony doing your Monday evening gardening against a sky red and smoky from nearby fires, navigating past police blockades and national guard troops on the way to work, rescheduling long planned community events to work around mandatory government curfews, and struggling to sleep to the sounds of sirens and low flying helicopters, it’s difficult to pull out of the weirdness of the moment to think about something as mundane as the economics of the internet. For anyone wondering, things are emotional and exhausting, and there’s a strange vibe in the air, but everything I’ve seen in the newspapers has been greatly exaggerating the actual danger here. So far, the government response has been much larger and much more striking than anything I’ve seen with the protests (and definitely than the riots, which were focused on a few small areas). There’s a lot of tension, and things could change quickly, but most of what I’ve seen has been people going about their lives, going to and from work, chatting, laughing, playing in the playgrounds… though the soldiers and riot police standing by definitely adds some texture.

Anyway, trying to stay on topic: you’ve talked several times about media fasting and the advantages of cutting back from media exposure, and this week in both the essay several comments you’ve highlighted the importance of learning to replace functions the internet fills on our lives with more stable versions of the same thing (the first step of that being reducing exposure to and therefore dependency on the internet and other forms of media). There are many of us, I’m sure, who spend a good portion of their time between 9 and five on Mondays through Fridays sitting in front of computers at work. And being unemployed without a safety net is a bit more collapsing than anyone I know would choose to do. Can cutting media out of home life while still being required to use it at work have the same benefits? Or are there other ways to “recalibrate the brain towards reality” (such as time spent in stillness in natural settings) that, combined with cutting out media and internet use at home could counter the impacts of regular computer use at work?

Blueback said...

Interesting that the rioters in Baltimore are starting to call themselves rebels. Sounds like we could be seeing an insurgency in the United States sooner than anyone expected. And think of all those young African-American men who were trained in the latest guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency tactics by the US military and then got screwed over after they got out of the military. How many angry black veterans do you think are out there who can’t even find work after serving their country in the Middle East due to poor economic conditions and structural racism?

I remember another commenter from a few weeks ago shared a link about the Chechen government threatening to send military aid, including weapons, to the Mexican government and Hispanic separatists in the Southwest United States in retaliation for the US government fomenting anti-Russian revolutions and rebellions in the former Soviet Union. I wonder how long before the Russians, the Chinese and their allies start openly aiding American dissidents and separatists? You know what they say about payback…

Not surprisingly, the Russian media is having a field day with the news coming out of Baltimore. Some Russian media commentators are already predicting an insurgency pitting African Americans against the system. Here are English translations of a couple of op-eds that recently appeared in the Russian press:

The first columnist, Andre Fursov, who is a historian and sociologist, makes many of the same points that John Michael does. He notes that standards of living for most Americans have been declining since the mid 1970’s, that the US has kept its economy afloat by American corporations robbing the rest of the world (the imperial wealth pump the Archdruid speaks of) and that Russian economists estimate the US consumes 3-4 times as much as it produces, creating a global economic imbalance that cannot continue much longer. Fursov and many other Russian analysts believe the US is headed for another civil war, motivated in large part by centuries of pent-up racial grievances.

Fursov writes, citing Chalmers Johnson, “In the 1990's under Clinton, the US ceased to be a Republic and turned into a military empire. And it is crumbling before our eyes. This is a huge dying "dinosaur", but his "seizures" can be very dangerous for the world. Especially considering the crisis of the elites in the USA.”

And he concludes by warning Russians “Therefore, we need to ‘keep our powder dry’, and to live by the principle: ‘We are peaceful people, but our battleship is standing by’.”

Speaking of the murder of Freddie Gray by the Baltimore PD, how does a man who has already been handcuffed and was known to be in good health break his own neck, sever his own spinal cord and crush his own larynx? This sort of behavior is absolutely disgusting, but seems to be par for the course in far too many jurisdictions in the United States. Again, that old saying about payback keeps coming to mind…

Varun Bhaskar said...


The death of the internet is a topic I'm not touching with a ten-foot pole. People are fanatically devoted to the concept of the internet around here, except for a few of us who've realized that we're living the decline.

Still, starting a small private library with the help of two good friends, and we're talking about finding a place to least until I figure out where the rubble will land and when I can head to India.

One of your readers gave me a gift of water earlier that will come in handy when I head back to the homeland.

In other news here's my very first raised garden bed.



Jason Fligger said...

This may be off topic but I found this old aircheck from June 29, 1973 online. It is a full 12 hours of music and "news". It is really interesting to see where we were back then (I was 4). I can remember the sense of purpose my uncles had as the went to work at Pontiac Motors and other places in the Detroit area everyday. There was a sense of purpose and permanence that doesn't exist anymore. The aircheck can be found here if you are interested in timewarping back to 1973 for a few hours:

Shane Wilson said...

Hmm, the US will still exist 50 years from now, and the insurgents in the Mountain West and South will still be fighting the Feds? I kinda thought we'd be post US by then...

Alexander Leong said...

Hey JMG, someone else in the comments mentioned this book and I thought I'd chime in on that. The book in question is The End of Absence by Michael Harris and you might want to check it out if you have the time. He discusses one of the things that, in our mad rush to hurl ourselves into the glowing embrace of our screens, we have almost completely lost touch with as a society - Absence. 24/7 connectivity simply isn't working out that well for homo sapiens, apparently. And neuroscience (irony of ironies) has verified this.

The ability to deal with solitude, to embrace being alone and disconnected, the ability to daydream, to be absent from the world for a period of time, the capacity to welcome loneliness and not be freaked out by it - these are things that the online generation is losing. And he asks: "Who actively seeks out loneliness?". No one, as the mainstream would say. I guess this fascination with near-ubiquitous connectivity has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the particular American quality of fetishizing extroverts. You're seen as abnormal if you actively seek out quietude, if you claim to like being alone. This is added to the list of "problems" that technology can/must fix.

Which is patently untrue, and has proven to be disastrous for flesh-and-blood human interaction. You can't substitute real conversation with text messages, Snapchat, and what have you. I am glad to say, however, that a lot of people around me on campus seem to be realizing that. There is a lot of work to be done, but not everyone is plugged into the Matrix.

Sylvia Rissell said...

It would seem likely that the easier it is to repair the device/appliance/tool, the longer its useful lifespan.

For example, modern integrated circuit packaging is no longer maintainable by a hobbyist with a soldering iron, even if spare parts were available.

Contrast that with the sewing machine. My regular machine was purchased in 1995, and I have a 1960s Singer sewing machine (heavy!). Spare parts for the Singer are available via the internet, and I can find repair people willing to clean and adjust it.

However, I recently did a sewing project with my daughter's scout troop. The troop leader tried to find a second sewing machine so the project would go faster. Out of 11 families, there were several "broken" machines, but only mine was there to use.

I know sewing and mending aren't really economically necessary the way they were a century ago, but I grew up thinking that every family had a machine!

عبد المنعم المشايخي said...

Holistic approach is needed, piecemeal approach is shattering. Fear-mongering, only aggravates the situation. Change of philosophy is needed. Faith to change our mode of living on collective ground and this always starts with the individual. Thank you for the warning before the deluge.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Is there anyone else on this list who listens to/watches State of the Union speeches? I don't do it consistently, but the opening part of this week's blog entry reminded me of something from one of those speeches years ago.

My recollection is that the speech was by a Republican, probably the senior Bush. (I avoided listening to Reagan's speeches because I couldn't stand him.) There was a brief passage near the end of the speech that had no lead in, as if it had been tossed in as filler or to please somebody. The President said that the coming years would see the U.S. producing a civilian aircraft that was more advanced, one that flew on the edge of space or would get halfway around the globe very fast or something like that. Though I don't remember the year of this State of the Union, I think it was after the Concorde had begun service.

I remember thinking that this was the only thing in the entire speech that sounded interesting, and watching for some kind of follow up. The network
commentators on the speech ignored this passage completely, no one at all took it seriously, and it seems to have dropped without a trace. Needless to say, we never saw the aircraft.

Does anyone remember which President made this speech, and what year, and what project he was talking about?

Cherokee Organics said...


Yes, I wonder about the forced requirement to communicate to government departments via the Internet versus general availability, access and affordability issue too. It will certainly be an interesting issue in the near and far future – plus it costs me quite a bit personally and the prices seem to keep only going in one direction which just happens to be upwards.

In print, a person can savour every word for its individual meaning. A very civilised way to have a discussion.

Did you know that the first allied shots of World War one and two were fired from Down Under and not even too far from my farm? We're an enthusiastic and trigger happy bunch to be sure down here. Oh yeah, the reason I mention that was because there was no Internet at all during those times!

Fort Nepean

Hi Nestorian,

Mate, the Italians have a rather crude saying which aptly describes your many comments: "Breaking Balls"! Yes, I reckon that belabouring a point over and over again each time in a mildly different and yet much the same way exactly describes that particular behaviour and it is tiring to read. Sorry, mate, but that is my final word on the matter.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi SLClaire,

Yes, the obscene phone calls.

My first night away from home, I received a phone call at about 2am. It went like this...

Them: "Where's Dave?"

Me: "Who's Dave?"

Them: "We know he's there and he owes us money"

Me: "Mate, I just moved in here today and there's no Dave"

Them: "We're coming to get you now"

And then they'd hang up and you'd be going to yourself - What just happened? A very unsettling phone call from a complete stranger. They never turned up fortunately and I simply went back to sleep.

My lady on the other hand used to get the occasional phone calls early in the morning:

Them: "Hi. Is Dave there?"

My lady: "No, there's no Dave living here."

Them: "Oh sorry, must have the wrong number. You sound nice."

My lady: "Thanks. Look I gotta go, it's early in the morning."

Them: "You must be cold standing there. What are you wearing?"

And at that point my lady would wisely hang up.

Incidentally apologies to people with the name David - my memory is a bit hazy and I simply substituted that name. The larger point still stands - that gear went on and it did actually happen.

Mind you though, there is probably a special place in Hell for me because as a child my mates and I used to go regularly nick-knocking on peoples doors at night. That involved knocking on strangers doors or pressing the door bell and then running away like crazy. It used to really irritate people for some strange reason! ;-)!

Ahhh, the crazy days of youth.



Bob Wise said...

Fascinating post, but I hope you're wrong. I'm fond of the Internet, not least because it lets me blog at minimal cost. I hope it survives, and not just for the wealthy few.

Not all the complexity and expense you describe is intrinsic to the beast; it grew those layers of fat to feed resource hogs of every kind: albums of high-resolution images, video clips, audio files, and now the ultimate bandwidth-waster of streaming video. Instead of publishing a movie on a few thousand DVDs which can each be played hundreds of times, we transmit that movie over the phone line/cable network every time someone wants to watch it!

The original ARPANET was assembled out of computers already owned by universities and research facilities; the only equipment they needed to add was acoustic modems for sending files over telephone lines. They didn't put much extra load on the lines; many text files could be transmitted in the time required for one voice call, and an occasional image didn't overload the system.

Such a system could survive in a resource-poor future, as you say, probably as long as the users could afford to run computers. Files could be broadcast by shortwave radio, in those night hours when the ionosphere links half the earth in a radio network.

And computers and software don't have to be as short-lived as they seem today; I'd guess the solid-state machines -- netbooks and chromebooks -- ought to work for many years. I'm working at a computer I bought as a refurb ten years ago, typing in an Australian text editor I bought online in 1992, using an operating system that Microsoft has disowned. It all works, and I hope to keep it going.

Dennis D said...

I am thinking about the cost of the internet, and who is voluntarily paying them. I am reminded of the cartoon of two pigs in a pen talking about the wonderful free food and shelter they are getting, with a sub-title of "if your not paying, then you are the product". The other group willing to pay is those that desire control. With modern algorithms able to filter out the ones most likely to actually build a bomb or commit to a rebellion, the security agencies are very interested in who posts what on the internet/e-mail/text messages. As future rebels figure out how their predecessors were caught, will they go "dark", and by inference, those that go dark voluntarily be lumped in with the rebels? Maintaining an internet presence beyond what would be economically sensible might be required for advancement, or at least lack of persecution.

Cathy McGuire said...

This is partly apropos to this week’s post, but also to the overall comments I keep seeing readers address to JMG, about why strive when we can’t make a difference, or on what level we attempt to make changes. I have been rereading Rollo May’s The Courage To Create, written in the 70s, and chock-full of statements that directly address this. For example the opening chapter says, “frightened by the loss of our familiar mooring places, shall we become paralyzed and cover our inaction with apathy?… [Or] Shall we consciously participate, on however small the scale, in the forming of the new society?” And he goes on to describe what he sees as necessary to the latter. He says that Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus and Sartre have all “proclaimed that courage is not the absence of despair; it is rather the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.”

The part of his book that addresses this week’s post comes in the chapter on Creativity In The Unconscious – I was really impressed by how he predicted the dilemma we are now facing: “what I am saying is that the danger always exists that our technology will serve as a buffer between us and nature, a block between us and the deeper dimensions of our own experience.” And he goes on to say “for if we are not open to the unconscious, irrational, and the trans-rational aspects of creativity, then our science and technology have helped to block us off from what I shall call ‘creativity of the spirit’.… I mean creativity in art, poetry, music, and other areas that exist for our delight and the deepening and enlarging of meaning in our lives rather than for making money or for increasing technical power.” There are so many, many other parts of this book that deal with the challenges that we are now facing 40 years later that I would encourage everybody to read it if they can. It is a small book, and not difficult to read. The whole thing seems to be available (I haven't checked word for word)as a pdf at:

Roger said...

ForestFarmer and JMG and anyone else,

The way I look at it, the reason you were required to wear a beeper, the reason people are required by their employers to carry cell phones/smart phones etc and incessantly check emails has got nothing whatever to do with business.

Rather it has got everything to do with power. And control. The bosses want you to know that your life isn't your own.

The company you work for and the boss you answer to want you to know that they have you on a leash, that you are at their beck and call, that they have the privilege of annoying you whenever they feel like it. And, if you want to stay employed by that company, if you value the paycheque, you have nothing to say about it.

For all their dutiful conformity it seems to me that the grey-suited, fedora wearing yes-men of the corporate world of two generations ago at least had a semblance of a private life. Yeah, they had telephones, yeah, if they were high up enough they called in to the office while they were on holidays. But modern-day intrusiveness is getting totally out of hand. The company wants its clammy fist around people's throats all the time.

Keeping people stressed and unable to shut-down is counter-productive. The bosses ought to realize this. But this minor detail about human nature seems to be beyond their ken.

Like you said FF, your answering the calls right away made not a spit of difference.

MayHawk said...

"Martin, makes perfect sense to me. That's why there will be a print version of the Report down the road, when those limits start to bite. "

I was certain you had your fallback position already thought out.

Keith said...

Thanks. Great post. I have a 14 year old, and am watching he effect of being on-line closely. They certainly think it will last forever.

A quick story: in the late 1990s, I returned to my job as a policy analyst after 3 years living in Havana. My new boss told me to write a report on consumer protection in the just emerging e-commerce field. I replied that I just came from a place where both commerce and the internet were prohibited. (I hadn't seen the internet at this point). He said, good, you'll have fresh eyes.

All the best

Rumighoul said...


I may be too late for a response to this, but I wondered if you could say any more along the lines of your response to Mark Rice:
"if you're employed in the hardware end of things, you probably have a job for the foreseeable future. Software, not so much

I'm currently in a steady (for now) but low-wage job. Having two very young kids to support however I'm not terribly happy there - though we are very frugal and have managed to save.

I've never been confident or proactive enough in forging an actual career for myself, and last summer a concerned, well-meaning friend put pressure on me to learn programming to become more employable. Both she and her husband were programmers, and the latter was making a ton of money as a java specialist. There was a period of about 6 weeks were they got through to me and I spent time learning lessons in the Python language to see how I did. It went well, but then it gradually got left down...

I've been reading your blog for 4 years now, and in the back of my mind in this period there was always your point of view on the future of computers, the internet etc...which I didn't really know how to communicate to my programmer friends, any more that I could get them to appreciate the wisdom of spending so much energy learning to grow food on my allotment.

But it has been difficult - occasionally I've wondered if I'm being crazy; that although the future the Archdruid sketches out may be convincing, if I worked really hard I could get a much higher-paid job while things last, perhaps for the next 5-7 years, and continue to save and save like mad, then buy the house with the huge garden and go back to the Green Wizardry then...

Everyone's situation is different and I appreciate you can't know what is best in each case, but I wondered what your gut feeling would be on whether I've been right not to follow my friends' advice. I HAVE been wondering about pursuing a qualification in organic horticulture, but I need to be realistic about employment.

With appreciation from a dedicated reader (and lurker),

Rob Ryan said...

While many of your points, particularly with reference to how the internet, which costs much more to provide for me than I pay (though I pay a fair bit) is funded. And it's clear that a maturing internet will not look like the internet of five years ago (today's already is a hint of things to come), the loss will be more than simply "we'll go back to doing the same things but as they were done before." I can get scholarly papers that would not have been available to me without being enrolled at a university in the pre-internet days. Should your predicted scenario come to pass, I will miss access to information (useful information, not pictures of kittens or people without clothes on). As it is now, if I want steam tables, chemical properties, bessel function tables, ephemera, etc. I can have it wherever I am. Without the internet, some of it would be simply unavailable, many projects would languish because getting the disparate data needed to complete them would be untenable or too expensive. That's not to say it won't happen, but it won't be a simple case of doing the same things the way we did them in earlier times. Some things just won't be able to be done.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

Last year the family which owned the neighborhood plant nursery and garden supply store retired and sold the business to a chain. I just saw something on sale there that I had never seen before. Someone had the possibly clever idea of grafting tomatoes onto potato root stock, or tubers, or something. The tomato plants were beginning to flower, four foot high in cages planted in pots, and the claim is that after harvesting the summer tomatoes, one can harvest several pounds of potatoes from the roots. I didn't check which varieties of tomato and potato they married. Anyone else know about this?

Susan J said...

The internet is also subsidized by government agencies who use it for cost-efficient access by customers/constituents.

I have been using the internet extensively since 2004 researching family history, aka genealogy. The Mormon church has published extensive digitized collections of documents, many of which I have found invaluable. There are a number of governmental groups, like the nation of Scotland and the state of Massachusetts, who have invested large sums to publish historical records. And bless their pea-pickin’ hearts. And then there is Google, with their digitizing of the old books in university libraries that have proved to have a wealth of historical information.

I have been thinking how genealogists can share information post internet. The local library’s card catalog is so inadequate. Perhaps they will adopt a better classification system (and they do exist). And user groups can advertise in major newspapers, or else the Mormons can step to the new plate and offer a reference service.

And, of course, my understanding of history has changed radically with all this research. Hopefully the obscure—and invaluable—facts will survive the loss of the internet.

Maybe our disposable income will not support the future internet. Hopefully toll-free telphone numbers will survive.

I could give up the internet if there still were trains! Especially the intercontinental trains. I don’t care how slow they are. It’s the trip that matters, not how soon you get there.

Now, as involved as I am in the publishing business, I have been thinking of printing presses and radio. What do my neighbors need to get these up and running?

And I cannot say I will miss going to my local library, sitting in a pod of computers used by individuals like me, and glance at the screen of the guy on my right to see . . . pictures of people without clothes.

Susan J said...

Reading the comments, I just thought of a real benefit to the sayonara of the internet: while I will miss telecommuting, I will not miss talking to Indians who work in some offshore service center — and are no help whatsoever. The whole offshoring jobs thing will fade away leaving jobs for . . . onshore Americans. What a concept!

John Michael Greer said...

Forest Farmer, of course computers are more expensive when all the externalities are taken into account. All I mean by saying that right now doing things via computers is cheaper is that an email costs less in immediate, direct, personal costs than a postage stamp; you can generally get products online for less than you'd pay for the same thing from a local store, and so on. The additional costs of the computer are shoved off onto others or charged indirectly, while more of the costs of the noncomputer alternative need to be paid up front.

Vic, I'm familiar with the book; I wonder if you could get it published now that people in the Ukraine have more experience with computers, and more reason to be troubled by them.

Katy/Phil, oh, granted. The shock of losing Facebook may seem dreadful at the time, but I wonder how it'll look in retrospect compared to years of extreme poverty, say, or being conscripted to fight in the next European war.

Kyoto, I tend to be a bit gloomier about the prospects of democracy and freedom; I think that a lot of people traded in actual democracy and freedom for an online simulation, and when the simulation goes away, they'll be left with neither.

Fudoshin, so noted; unfortunately people seem to be perfectly able to do us-and-them thinking without the internet, too.

Erica, funny. Glad to see someone caught that.

Ray, it's possible. If enough people get into retro computing soon enough, stockpile parts and working machines, and learn how to wield a soldering iron and the like, it's possible that your cyberpunk networks could be good for the relatively long term.

Honyocker, granted. It's as though nobody anywhere ever asked themselves what could go wrong.

Hapibeli, good! The other question to ask is what the net energy of the process is: take the initial input of wind energy, subtract all losses to entropy in the conversion process and all energy inputs from other sources, and do you end up with a positive number? My guess is probably not.

Thomas, thank you! Some call it magic, the search for the grail. ;-)

Yucca, I'm seriously considering it, but will have to talk to a small publisher or two.

Mindful, or a lot of smoke, with perhaps a mirror or two involved as well. I'd say much the same thing about the dreary fantasy of interstellar travel, for that matter.

Roger, that's an excellent point. A century ago, kids whose homes were next to each other would set up little private telegraph systems -- some wire, a battery, two makeshift keys and two buzzers would do it. I've seen plans in early 20th century books of neat electrical projects for boys.

Pygmycory, that dwindling revenue is a good sign of the move toward the internet having to make money. I doubt small sites like yours are the only ones feeling the pinch!

John Michael Greer said...

Ben, yes, that's one of the places the conflagration could begin. I don't mean Baltimore in particular -- the common habit of extrajudicial execution of suspects by US police could blow things sky high in the years immediately ahead, though it's only one of the things that could do so.

Kayr, it could certainly be done, and I'm making plans to do it if the internet becomes too costly or too unstable in the years immediately ahead.

RUKidding, I agree that it's likely to be a whimper, and a long, drawn-out, plaintive whimper at that. Long before that happens, though, those with talent and passion will have gone to other media.

Latefall, the US currently has more brick-and-mortar retail space per capita than any other nation on earth. I don't see a problem with the end of the internet in that sense.

Steve, your first point is a good one. The second -- well, that would make sense if the political class had any interest in making the internet accessible to lots of people; my guess is that as things wind down, still being online will be a form of conspicuous consumption much practiced by the well-to-do.

Eric, good question. I'd encourage you to experiment, and let us know what results you get!

Blueback, no question, payback is the gift that keeps on giving. I've suggested (in my novel Twilight's Last Gleaming among other places) that funding domestic unrest here in the US would be a logical and effective strategy for Russia to use in the new cold war, but I've got to admit that the US political class is working overtime to make that strategy a slam-dunk for Russia...

Varun, oh, granted -- there are some heresies so unspeakable that only an archdruid can utter them. Congrats on the hugelkultur bed!

Jason, thanks for the blast from the past.

Shane, I wasn't going to get into the impending breakup of the US in that post -- I figured I was goading the progress-worshippers enough already!

Alexander, thank you -- I'll give it a look. As for who's actively seeking out loneliness, I'd have to raise a hand; like most people I know with Aspergers, I need a lot of solitude to function well.

Sylvia, true enough. More generally, the ability to repair and recondition old technology will be a huge advantage in the years ahead.

(name I can't read), you're most welcome.

Unknown Deborah, I make a point of avoiding State of the Union speeches, but I seem to recall reading about something of the sort back a while. The hypersonic spaceplane gets dusted off every decade or so and paraded around as the next great leap; it's technically feasible but economically hopeless -- rumors in the aerospace scene have it that the SR-91 Aurora, a prototype hypersonic spyplane tested in the 1990s, had an operating cost of $1 million per flight, and that's for something much smaller than a jetliner. So yes, the hypersonic spaceplane has more than a little in common with the Boeing SST!

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, I hadn't heard of Fort Nepean, no, but it brings back fond memories -- there are abandoned forts of much the same design around Puget Sound and the mouth of the Columbia River, which I visited many times in my misspent youth. Only one of them ever saw combat, though -- in the Second World War, a Japanese sub surfaced off the Columbia mouth at night and lobbed some shells at Fort Stevens with its deck cannon, doing minor damage.

Bob, so? Without the capacity to provide the services (such as streaming video) that people want enough to pay for, the only form of internet that's still viable is something like ARPAnet, which won't provide you an opportunity to blog, or do most of the other things you currently do online.

Dennis, true enough.

Cathy, thanks for this! I read May back in the day, but haven't looked at his work for decades. I'll have to remedy that.

Roger, exactly. As I noted in a previous post, some people don't seem to mind being just one more cog in the machine...

MayHawk, of course! A magical education is good for something, after all.

Keith, that's a good story. What did you think of the internet at first glance?

Rumighoul, we're probably on the brink of a major economic crisis, and the job you have now is probably the one you'll have -- or lose -- as the crisis unfolds. I don't recommend anything that would require going to college, either, as the costs have been inflated far beyond the value of what you get for it. That is to say, you're probably better off staying where you are, unless you have reason to think that your job is going to go away soon.

Rob, I'm trying to make sense of your comment. If we go back to doing things the way they were done before the internet, why, yes, things that weren't possible before the internet won't be possible after it, either. Part of doing things the way they were done before the internet is accepting that the limits on what can be done at all will be different.

Unknown Deborah, hmm. I have my doubts, but will want to hear from someone who's tried it.

Susan, back in the day, people who shared a special interest would normally subscribe to a magazine or newspaper devoted to that interest, and that served as a communication hub in various ways. It'll be just as viable after the internet.

Caryn said...

Interesting note: Today was one of the few days we really wanted streaming access - the menfolk in the house keen to watch the Mayweather vs. Paquiano fight. No service due to overburdened systems and HBO's out-of-country lockdown. Apparently everyone was watching it on Twitter and it downed the system. Typical. They were not happy to have missed most of it, but less happy that Pac Man lost. They survived.

Honestly; Even die-hard netizens like my husband and sons will be just. fine. 3 days after it goes away and the shakes and withdrawals subside. I mean it's a great tool sometimes. I will definitely miss it too, (I've been printing out hard copies of all recipes I know I'll want to keep) but it's not all that reliable NOW for a lot of us.

@Unknown (Deborah Bender)

I have not seen one in action but I have seen the articles on it: - The Tom-Tatoe plant hybrid:

It doesn't look like a fake. Might be worth a try for you able-gardners with little space. Me, I'm just happy my pineapple tree was saved from my brown thumbs.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I entered "tomato potato graft" into Google and got a page of good links. The idea isn't new, but the plants have been commercially available in the UK only since September 2013 and are just hitting the US market now. To make it work, they had to find varieties of tomato and potato that had compatible maturing times, stems of equal thickness for the graft and which did not result in tomato flavored potatoes or potato flavored tomatoes (since you can buy the latter at the supermarket every winter). They wound up grafting cherry tomatoes to white potatoes.

Grafting different varieties or related species of woody plants onto a hardy rootstock is a common practice, but grafting soft tissue annuals is more trouble than it's usually worth, since you have to do it over every year. However, if you are short of planting space or want to grow a fruit that doesn't like your soil, it might make sense. Basically, these things are a novelty gift.

I expect this to inspire grafts of eggplants next. It's kind of creepy, as is the scientific term for this sort of interference; it's a chimaera.

Unknown said...

I know you don't subscribe to doomster scenarios John, but one thing that may wipe out the internet, at least for quite a while, would be another Carrington event. Coronal mass ejects happen all the time, and one will no doubt be aimed right at the Earth again some day. The last one merely messed with telegraph wires, the next one will pooch the electric grid of whichever side of the planet that gets hit, and if it goes on for 24 hours, not much will be spared. Satellites will fall from the sky and this gossamer network of interconnected magic will evaporate like pixie dust.

Vic Postnikov said...

It's great that you've known the book. I will try to do my best to find the publisher for Steve Talbott. Although Ukraine now lies in shambles. But - my translation is available on-line here
Talbott is also known for editing the on-line NETFUTURE bulletin (Technology and Human responsibility) I owe much to his vision. - Best, JMG. Keep up debunking human delusion.

Vic Postnikov said...

Stephen Talbott's book THE FUTURE DOES NOT COMPUTE--Transcending the Machines in Our Midst, can be found on-line

Highly recommended.


latefall said...

@JMG re retail space
You're probably very right there, but it is not what I tried to get at.
From a customer's perspective the market for internet access in the US does not favor the frugal user, compared to what you can get in many other places. In Germany I could get a pay per kb plan and stretch out 15$ over a year with the right settings and moderate use. In the US you have a lot more services (e.g. streaming video) but your monthly minimum generally is pretty high. They try to "suck you in" it seems.
Also the services offered (often through start-ups) reflect the risk/reward attitude (or r/K if you prefer) that is found in many parts of US (business) culture.
Lastly you have the imperial facet in this, which is sometimes hard to pin-point. On the one hand you have the compulsion to go into any and all crazy techs to a degree "to avoid strategic surprise" as DARPA puts it I think. On the other hand the US probably will try to make technological dominance (partly) pay for itself - exploiting pretty much all options. This is of course not limited to the internet (see: Echolon). Of course all that makes it really hard to put numbers on internet sustainability.
Here is one pointer though:
They offer clean/green email for about 1$ a month. So far they have a pretty good track record - but they certainly buy the same hard-disks like the rest of us, so...

re Insurgency
If I were Russia, China, South America, or India I would hold my horses for the time being. Don't fiddle with falling knives. With a quake due, and drought ongoing in California - there really is no hurry. I would probably set things on go as the quake hits. Arguably I would be very, very carefully busy with making some arrangements to aggravate situations that arise naturally. Similar to the Maidan square snipers, just a lot meaner.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Hello (Erika),

No worries. Sorry to hear about your plight and thanks for the good advice.

Writing is a funny beast and I have no expectation at all of ever being paid for fiction. I have mostly written non-fiction over the years and have actually been paid for most of those works. The market is declining for that sort of paid work now. I now write for the sheer joy of it and for the dialogue with others. It is good fun and controlling the moderation, stomps out the trolls. I banish thee: back to hiding under a bridge - you trolls!

Story telling on the other hand is quite the skill and I have a gut feeling that it is an important skill to develop because people more or less think in terms of stories, narratives and symbolism. If you ever feel otherwise, I recommend that you spend some time observing the political discourse.

Our host has dedicated himself to enlightening us on our journey into the land of and awareness of nature. If he decides to invest some of his valuable time in providing a few pointers on my story, then I'd be very grateful. However, if he does not then that's OK too.

Trial and error / practice seems to be a pretty good technique to learn skills too! And it is very interesting to note that many of the skills that I have had to learn over the decades have involved that sort of a journey. An epic journey of uncertainty, testing, failure and gumption to try again in the face of failure can sometimes burn those lessons into your very existence.

It is notable that Sun Tzu urged a culture of constant refinement.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Bob Wise said...

Everything I value on the internet could be sustained in an ARPANET-like environment: Your blog and mine, specialty news sites like, general news sites like bbc, travel services like cruisesonly, classifieds like craigslist, etc.

They'd have to be simplified, of course. But behind all the imagery, audio, video and other window dressing, these sites are processing verbal information via an exchange of text files using HTML protocol. Every web page you see, no matter what eye candy it contains or triggers, is based on a text file sent to your computer by means of an HTML request and response.

heather said...

Unknown Deborah, I saw the tomato/potato thing too. It frankly gave me the creeps. Not sure why- I recognize that many of the fruit trees in my orchard were brought to me by the miracle of grafting. Part of it is the intermediation aspect. Potatoes and tomatoes are both so easy and satisfying to plant on one's own, from seed (or tubers), that having to purchase each plant, specially surgically crafted for me at large profit by a mail-order nursery, seems disadvantageous. This is one place where I don't feel I need the miracle of scientific progress to intervene- nature works fine for me. OTOH, I don't lack for growing space. Those who do (or who are into gee-whiz novelty) might want to try it, I suppose. It seems like a lot of work for a single plant to produce both fruit and tubers- wonder if they would be huge feeders, or weaker plants, more subject to disease?
--Heather in CA

Clay Dennis said...

JMG, not to get off topic but I just read an article in the sunday new york times titled, " The End of California" , by Timothy Egan and if flabergasted me because not only was it fodder for your future post, but a perfect example of techno utopianism so absurd that a tipping point must be at hand. It acurately listed the litany of water problems facing California and even debunked the common ones such as desalination. It predicted fights between the cities and the farmers etc. It had no possible solutions but ended with a paragraph about how everything was going to be all right in California because they had " invention" and" Imagination" on their side. Wow!

Tony said...

On the internet not being strictly necessary for a lot of what it's being used for:

Fax machines enjoy widespread appeal in Japan where the populace is far less trusting of email and websites.

August Johnson said...

JMG - Just one example of the externalization of costs of high-tech, Internet infrastructure that nobody counts as a "cost" of their Internet access:

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust

Tony said...

Uknown Deborah, the grafted tomato and potato plant is indeed real. It might even make sense.

All I know about it is that it required a lot of tomato breeding to produce a variety that grew its stem at around the same rate as the potato, but that potatoes and tomatoes are closely related enough that grafts will indeed take.

Unfortunately this is not a step towards my ultimate dream - a tomato plant that makes tomato tubers. They could be inedible for all I care, I just want the ability to plop a few in the ground and have strong vigorous tomato plants pop up rather than babying seedlings through the late winter indoors. To the point that I have been using my university access to scientific journals to look up the genetics of tuber growth and see if that's something you could breed or otherwise stick into a tomato...

latheChuck said...

To "unknown", re: doom-ish Carrington Event - the Sequel. For the original Carrington Event, no one had ever imagined it before. Since then (to make a long story short), not only have we strung many more wires for long distances across the landscape, but we've also installed circuit breakers which will (if properly operated) automatically detect ground-induced current and disconnect the wires. We also have real-time monitoring of solar conditions, to warn grid operators. A modern Carrington Event could easily be handled as a global blackout of several days duration; inconvenient (especially if you were, say, hoisting an enormous ladle of molten steel at the time), but nothing that keeps me awake at night.
I'm sure it's mere coincidence, but a series of alarming stories about the danger of geomagnetic storms came out right around the time NASA was looking for more money for solar monitoring...

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