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What if the Internet crashed today?

It’s 8:45 here in New York, and the sun just slipped down into the Hudson River, leaving the sky the color of a fresh bruise.

I spent the whole day offline, which is a pretty big deal.

As much as I talk about the importance of developing a diversified income stream, the truth is that most of my work–no, all of it–involves the Internet in some way. There’s the obvious: Matador work–the writing, the editing, the U–which is all online. The work for all my private editing and translation clients occurs via Internet, too. I don’t even know where half of them live. Even when I’m working on an article for a print magazine, or when I worked on the Fodor’s guide, or when I’m researching, the Internet is a critical resource.

So what did I do with my day offline? I got together with a few friends who also make their livings online. On our way to grab a coffee at Chelsea Market, we walked past the Apple store, where a line of customers was forming, presumably to buy iPads. “Like I need one more thing to keep me online,” said one friend.

And just like that, the thought occurred to me: “What if the Internet crashed today?”

For a few minutes–okay, for an hour or so–the question had me in a state of quiet panic. What would I do if my sources of income just dried up? Though I’ve got money coming in from different sources, I’ve depended solely upon the Internet to find those sources, to maintain the relationships, to transact all of the work.

The shape of my days would look entirely different. The number and nature of many relationships would probably change, too. There are things I’d miss–the ability to have a Skype video call with my mom so she can see her granddaughter growing between visits; the quick and easy connections with friends around the world who I can’t see in person; and yes, most of my work–but the idea of not sitting in front of a computer all day every day was, after that initial hour of panic, a really appealing idea.

I don’t think I’d ever go back to an office–not unless I was exceptionally desperate. Like Great Depression desperate. But the possibility of crafting something entirely new and far away from a screen was actually exciting. And the possibility of crafting something entirely new and far away from a screen with people I’ve met online was even more exciting… like a retreat center in the middle of Mexico. Or something.

I’m not hoping the Internet will crash or anything, but think about all that you’ve built online, and all that we’ve built through our collective networking. We’re the architects of an extraordinary community. And the idea that that could go offline and become something sustainable? Well, if the Internet crashes, I’ll view it as a tremendous opportunity.

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16 responses »

  1. Had never really considered this. I do often remind my business clients not to put all their marketing efforts into one platform, in the event it is closed or otherwise the rules change.

    Never considered the Matrix-like scenario of the whole thing going awry. wow. I wouldn’t even know how to find certain people, like you Julie

    Funny, I felt the same panic but now that I reflect on the idea properly, the idea is very refreshing. I’m sure our ancestors would have loved to sit around a desk all day, but man ‘no more screens’ sounds awesome.

    Reply
    • papertrail23

      Andy-

      I don’t know whether it’s more refreshing or more frightening that someone who spends as much time online as you do feels similarly! Seriously, what I was thinking after my friend said that was, “We’re the people who keep the Internet (at least in our little corner of it) up and running. So even if the Internet doesn’t crash, what if we all decided to just pull the plug? The market we essentially have created for ourselves would disappear, right?

      And you would come to our Mexico retreat, right?

      Reply
  2. My check is in the mail for your Mexico retreat. I’ll be okay—as long as coffee is still around.

    Without Twitter, e-mail, FaceBook, LinkedIn etc. we might all get a lot of work done for a change.

    Reply
  3. I started off working in print but the opportunities that presented themselves and the general flow of things just kept landing me in internet-land. And I’ve learned that I like it here even more. I suppose if the internet crashed there would be some new platform/technology/way of communicating globally replacing it and I’d like to think I’d be able to adjust and go with that flow as well. And I’d definately do it while collaborating on a retreat center. 🙂

    Reply
  4. True enough … my world revolves around the internet. But I did meet with a client a couple weeks ago to discuss a new project. It was nice to drive somewhere to discuss something in person. We can still communicate in person … we just need to make an effort to do it!

    Reply
  5. I’ve thought about that, too, and then realized it’s pretty much impossible for the entire internet to crash. I think that considering life without the internet could help us realize non-internet things we’d love to do – like open a retreat in the middle of Mexico (which by the way you could still do & stay connected)…

    Reply
    • papertrail23

      Abbie-

      I think as much as the Internet itself “crashing,” I was really thinking of what would happen if we all just got fed up with being online so much and decided to seriously scale back our Internet time. I feel like so much of what we’ve created online has depended on the online community we’ve created, and that community largely sustains us. So what if we all just pulled the plug?

      Reply
  6. If the Internet crashes, we’re building a commune. Hell, maybe we’ll do it anyway.

    Reply
  7. I really can’t remember what I used to do with my time before I started using the Internet. I miss the hands on stuff, I always wonder if my creativity is being stunted.

    Reply
    • Candice, I think we just exploit our creativity in a different way…the process is the same, just outletting to a different media, no?

      Reply
      • I think so, I just get hung up on the stuff that “doesn’t matter.” Like Texts From Last Night, for example. 😉

  8. I know I’m seriously internet-addicted…..here I am laid up in bed due to a back injury and hopped up on about 3200mg of ibuprofen just to be able to breath without wincing, and yet I’m on my laptop trying to get some work done (and read a few blogs)…how pathetic is that?

    And yet I really long for more time offline – my hubby has been pressuring me to take steps in that direction (stop taking on new copywriting & editing gigs, outsource more of my responsibilities, and schedule the rest into a shorter-yhan-my-current day)…..so that’s my goal for this year – I’d sure love to have the time to go to your retreat in Mexico!

    Reply
  9. Pingback: The People in Your Travels

  10. I’m currently going through old blog posts of mine, adding tags and redoing my categories (this is hard work as many posts are so cringe-worthy.) I just read through several posts from January 2007 when an earthquake severed some of the cables carrying telecommunication lines between Mainland China and North America. For one month our Internet access consisted mostly of sites within the Mainland, with access to email clients Gmail and Hotmail disrupted for only a week or so.

    The disruption was incredibly annoying, yes, but also very enlightening in just how important the Internet had become in our lives. Suddenly we couldn’t communicate with our families (intl phones were down, too), we couldn’t read the news (we became too familiar with China Daily, the govt. English publication), I actually had to postpone my online Master’s program by a semester. And yet, we survived just fine and I had a new appreciation for the digital divide. (And my moleskine was never so happy to see me!) I’ll never take full Internet access for granted again.

    Reply
  11. Great post, Julie. This really got me thinking!

    If the Internet crashed today, I couldn’t spend as long away from home, from friends and family. (I’m currently 5 months into an 8 month trip!) I rely on it so much for communicating; as an alternative for letters, to see my little cousins getting taller and taller through Skype. But then you wonder if it’s a sort of substitute for proper communication, which it is, but it’s better than nothing.

    I do have an guilty delight though when I occasionally realise there’s no way I can get online for a week or so and I send one last quick email, “can’t be in touch for a while” before logging off and jumping back into the real world!

    Reply

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