What Would Happen if the Internet Went Out?

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By Giselle Eisenburg

Featured Illustration by Fallon Geisler

The internet has become a daily necessity in the last 20 years. Communication, entertainment, information, school, and work have become dependent on the use of the internet. However, the use of the internet is not a strictly modern thing. The internet has been a large part of life for decades. Odds are you’ve heard older generations say that “it was a simpler time before the internet” but the truth is, most of them still lived with it. The radio, the news, landline phones, and cable television were all facilitated by the internet. 

So what would happen if all that suddenly went away? 

Imagine a day as if the internet went out: one of the first things to notice would be communication. There would be no way to contact anybody who you weren’t physically with. As the internet spans far beyond WiFi, communication would be at a complete halt. No texts would go through, no calls would be received, location services would not be working, etc. But no big deal, just head to school or work and deal with it later. But when you get into your car, the GPS won’t turn on. So you decide to go to the bus station and get on a bus, but when you try to buy a ticket, the system won’t let you. 

For the sake of the experiment, let’s say you found a way to get where you needed to be. Maybe you know the way by heart, or maybe you could walk. When you get there, the computers aren’t working. The people who live further away haven’t found a way to get there yet, and they haven’t contacted anyone to say that they can’t come. You might also notice that it is an uncomfortable temperature in the building, as most thermostat systems have some connection to the internet in order to function, and they wouldn’t be working. It is very likely that jobs such as teachers, journalists, lawyers, and others that rely on some use of computers would have to take a day off, as getting through the day would be very hazardous and difficult.

Illustration by Fallon Geisler

You arrive home, and decide to check the news to see if you can figure out what is causing such an odd day, but the TV isn’t going to help you. News programs won’t be able to send the signals necessary to broadcast anything. This will leave most wondering who this is affecting. Is it just the town, or the whole country? Or is the entire world offline? There would be almost no way to tell. You can’t contact someone who lives somewhere else, because there is no method of communication, there is no news to tell you anything, and most paper news would still not be operating for a few days. 

The loss of the internet would stretch much further than these daily hastles. Navigation would be offline, so commercial airplanes likely wouldn’t be able to fly for a while. There would likely be some form of economic crashes, because big online businesses like Amazon, Google, and eBay, which rake in an incredible amount of money, would have no way to function. This would cause unemployment rates to rise dramatically, and result in a loss of trillions of dollars. In fact, in 2015 and 2016, small contained internet blackouts caused a loss of 2.4 billion dollars (Waddell, Kaveh. theatlantic.com. The Atlantic, October 6th 2016), so the entire internet going down would be catastrophic to the economy.

“While snapchat or tiktok might not seem like a particularly important invention, that doesn’t mean the internet isn’t extremely important. People often seem to forget that it has revolutionized the world.”

Many cities in the United States operate with some sort of “smart grid” which uses internet connectivity to aid in convenience and power. This means that the loss of the internet would shut down the smart grids, and cause mass power outages. 

There would be issues with resources as well because stores wouldn’t have the ability to place their usual orders, and power outages would result in almost all perishable foods spoiling.

The internet has facilitated the way we live life in more ways than we could possibly imagine. We need the internet for so much more than we realize, and it’s not just for mindless entertainment as it often feels. While snapchat or tiktok might not seem like a particularly important invention, that doesn’t mean the internet isn’t extremely important. People often seem to forget that it has revolutionized the world. Of course, this is just a thought experiment, and the collapse of the internet has been deemed nearly impossible, but the concept of the internet going out would cause an incredible catastrophe that we should hope we’ll never have to face.