“The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”
– Eric Schmidt
A few years ago, humanity’s trajectory changed. The world fell into what has now been called the Digital Dark Age.
To clarify, the start of the Digital Dark Age was not a singular event, but rather an extended period where mankind’s relationship with technology started to erode. The first era, which some call The Digital Twilight, gave the first telltale signs that Reality was starting to become undone. Something within our souls changed so that our basest emotions wreaked havoc upon the technology that we built. Hunger-fueled anxiety and depression could cause lights to dim, and fear for one’s survival – especially when physically threatened – could cause anything from power outages to vehicles stopping in their tracks. Fortunately, these glitches were temporary.
Humanity’s response to such a cosmic warning was typical – one of simultaneous adaptation and denial. It wasn’t until the watershed event, the mysterious loss of the Internet and long-distance data transfer technology, that mankind on a global scale recognized that something catastrophic had occurred.
The Digital Twilight
New Age writers placed a lot of significance on the date December 21, 2012. The date was believed to correspond with the end of the 13th b’ak’tun, a measure of time in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. If you don’t know what that is, go online and look it up on W- wait, silly me, that’s no longer an option. Let’s just say that it’s a calendaring system from the time before the Americas were colonized. Some saw that date as the potential end of the world. Others saw it as the start of a new era for mankind. I have yet to see anything that confirms that the Mayans believed that something significant was anticipated to happen on that date, but that hasn’t stopped others from placing their belief in that date. In a world full of anxiety and despair, concentrated hope is a powerful force. If it turns out that’s the case – that hope focused on a single day could alter the fabric of reality – I have a few old friends that I plan to seek out to test that theory.
What differentiated the Digital Twilight from the time before is an anomaly that has come to be labeled the Pulse Phenomenon. At some point in the final weeks of 2012, technology started to glitch or outright break down at an accelerated rate. While older machines – ones that ran exclusively on combustion or steam power – were occasionally impacted, electronic equipment was greatly affected.
In the summer of 2013, researchers at Northwestern University found a correlation between an individual’s level of stress and the likelihood that technology will glitch around them. Studies were performed later that year to try to determine whether different types of stress have a greater impact on technology. The answer to that puzzle was found in an academic thesis in early 2014. Salwah Murad, doctoral candidate at John Hopkins University, presented research that concluded that stress based on physical and safety needs has a higher impact on technology than stress based on social or self-esteem issues. The cause of this anomaly, per now-Dr. Murad’s research and testing, was that humans had started emitting electromagnetic pulses, and that the intensity of those pulses increased when a person was under duress. This finding is what coined the term
Numerous humanitarian and civils rights groups lauded Dr. Murad’s work and cited her research as a reason to provide additional support to impoverished areas. The pointed to the Pulse Phenomenon as physical evidence of the cycle of poverty, as those who were in need were more likely to have critical technology – like transportation – fail on them and put them in a position where they were unable to work. Further, activists noted that the technological malady had the risk of becoming widespread and affecting the lives and livelihoods of those who were just slightly better off.
Lobbyists and fiscally conservative groups pushed back, naturally. At least one politician was quoted saying, “Poor people should not spend their money on tech toys to begin with”, never mind that such so-called tech toys included things like a working refrigerator. Some far-right media celebrities attempted to discredit Dr. Murad by making ad-hominem attacks because she was an immigrant, Muslim, and a woman. Others hinted that she was secretly an agent for the Daesh and that her “so-called research” was meant to pit America’s political factions against each other. Some of the more religiously devout alternated between claiming that the Pulse Phenomenon was God’s punishment for the lazy or God’s gift to free mankind from the false
idols of technology.
The years that followed saw the socioeconomic divide widen. The rich and ultra-elite were sheltered from most of the effects. The stress that they endured on a day-to-day basis was minimal and scope, and often could be handled discreetly through medication, prescription or otherwise. Those within the middle class started to isolate themselves from their lower-class peers out of a sense of self preservation. Those who were down on their luck for an extended period of time or who faced chronic illness became pariahs, as few wanted to reach out and support them out of the risk of their own technology and livelihoods being impacted. Those who
fell within the lower classes of society banded together as a community for security. To them, looking out for one another became a tool of self-preservation. If their neighbor had a full belly, enough medicine, and felt safe, that neighbor was less likely to cause a bus to break down from their personal stress.
One perceived benefit of the Pulse Phenomenon was a decrease in violent gun use. Despite being operated on combustion rather than electricity, firearms were affected and ceased to function when the wielder was under stress. Inner city areas saw a sharp decrease in police presence, as officers became hesitant of going to areas where their weapons no longer functioned. City budgets were reorganized to place police officers in more affluent areas – where their means of law enforcement were more effective – which led to impoverished communities turning to self-policing. Carrying weaponry such as pipes, knives, bats, and swords became commonplace, and children as young as 5 were taught the basics of self-defense.
The Digital Dark Age
On August 21, 2017, a mysterious event occurred that shut down all electronic technology for 1 minute and 17 seconds. After that alarming blip, most electronics returned to normal. However, all traces of the Internet vanished, and computer networks only functioned if the devices were in close, wired proximity to each other. Both mystical and technological forces worked from within the shadows to ensure that the electronic connectivity that the prior generation grew accustomed to would not return. Electronic devices – even if they didn’t rely on the Internet – would occasionally malfunction for periods of time. Thus, the Digital Dark Age began.
Our story begins in 2027, ten years later…
What Works? (and what doesn’t?)
All mechanical devices, whether powered by combustion or electricity, occasionally go through periods where they cease working. Most return to normal functioning after a short period of time. No one knows why these man-made devices temporarily stop working.
Most methods of transmitting data over longer distances ceased to function. Modems were able to receive and transmit tones, but were somehow unable to translate those tones into data. Wired connections functioned as long as the computers were within approximately 25 feet of each other. One-way transmissions via infrared (like from remote controls) also continued to work. Digital cable ceased to function, while analog cable and tv-antennas still worked. Cell phones still functioned for taking and receiving calls, but the ability to send text messages was spotty at best. Government agencies and the super-elite are among the few rumored to have reliable text messaging.
The freedom, speed, and open access of the Internet was gone.
Smaller, independent artists lost their means of connecting and sharing their work with fans across the globe. Communities and activists focused on furthering human rights causes lost their primary platform for communication and organizing. Social progress slowed to a crawl (and in some cases, backslid) and commercial media again became the dominant voice. Nations and communities became more insular. Carrying weapons became commonplace, as unreliable technology meant that one could not always rely on the police arriving on time, if at all.
Data transfer devices – like flash drives – still functioned normally. Some took advantage of this by learning how to insert malicious code into flash drives in order to compromise individual computers and smaller networks. Others found a potential business opportunity and created a new form of cyber-security, focusing on the secure transportation of flash drives of confidential data from one location to another.
Industries that were reliant on the Internet or digital record-keeping took a major hit. Even 10 years later, the health care industry is still trying to recover. There were numerous deaths during Day 0 due to life support machines malfunctioning. In the months that followed, the sick and injured received substandard care due to the loss of their past medical records. Banks also suffered, as their customers realized that their own financial records had vanished into the ether. Many of the chain banks failed within the first year, replaced by smaller, neighborhood banks. Likewise, large multi-campus corporations broke into smaller, more manageable companies. Businesses that relied on overseas labor – manufacturing and call centers – brought those jobs back to the United States.