Many of you earn your living through your websites and blogs. Others of you earn enough to finance your travels while a few more (such as myself) work for online businesses. Almost all of us rely on the internet, cell phones and other devices to stay connected. What happens if…
A massive solar flare. Numerous communication satellites are blinded or taken out completely which in turn causes a major, if not a total breakdown in the communication systems. You’re on the road. You now have zero access to the things that generate your income, keep you doing your job and/or your staying connected in general.
How do you see yourself responding to this situation?
I would chop up my laptop and use it as firewood, eat wild berries and grass, and write my blog posts in the sand with a stick.
Trail of Ants
Solar flare? No problem. It wouldn’t phase me at all; when I travel, I often find myself in places that don’t have internet (although this is getting harder) for long stretches. In many ways, I see travel and travel blogging as separate entities. The latter is purely a way of communicating the former to a mass audience, much like a phone call or even a text message. Travel is at the heart of travel blogging, and only one can survive without the other.
I don’t earn a living or finance my travels from blogging, or own a smart phone, so perhaps it’s easier for me to take this point of view, and to be honest I like it that way. The day I depend on the internet to travel — or even sustain my travels — will be a really sad day. It won’t happen. Travelling with the internet is like the autobahn, it’s appealing, but the real treats are off the slip road. That said, my travel indubitably benefits from my online presence, and at the very least it fuels my passion when I’m not on the road/autobahn.
Fortunately I have saved years worth of living/travel expenses that would continue to fund my travels and life abroad. I am currently living in an apartment in Colombia and would continue to do so following my regular routine with the same activities such as tennis and salsa lessons. I think I would ride out the disaster for years while I continue my life abroad and travels. I would appreciate the opportunity to live abroad and travel without work obligations for the first time in my life. As long as I was to keep myself occupied with friends and activities I don’t see myself doing much differently. Maybe I’d even venture into the offline business world for the first time!
Notes from the Road
We live in the most fascinating age that a travel writer could ever live in. We live in an age of six billion people, in a global society that has chosen to connect itself together through technology. We live in a world where our species has become hyper-successful. It is this world that is so fascinating to write about as a travel writer, because all of that success puts us teetering uncomfortably on the edge of Dystopia. As travel writers, we often get a glimpse into this nearby future – we see hurricane damage, melting icebergs, fallen economies, polluted towns. A communication blackout might help illustrate that possible future a little better.
I would be enthralled to be out on the road when such an early Dystopian event happens. It would reveal something about us, it would make people more raw and alive, and so we could see a part of them that the age of communication keeps hidden in the dark. The point is, that as travelers, we would by definition have no problem circumnavigating the blackout. As travelers, we know how to adapt, saving our accounts until the moment we can broadcast again. And if the solar flare even affects our cameras, our video-recorders, our voice-capture machines, we can always pick up a pencil and write, or even sketch, our account.
I’m not sure if you are assuming a temporary or permanent collapse of the internet. Either way, there isn’t much you can do about it. Matters are beyond your control. You can probably keep taking photos and writing, as personal electronics would probably be ok. If/when things get back to normal, you’ll have a bunch of content to upload. If things don’t get back to normal, then you need to either find new work or stop traveling.
That being said, I’m not sure a solar flare would take down the entire Internet. Half of the Earth would be shielded and most internet communications do not rely on satellites. The greater damage would be to the electrical grid.
The Longest Way Home
I would smile a huge sigh of relief!
In the strange world of traveling outside of tourist destinations, I’ve come across this on many an occasion.
West Africa – whereby you’d be without communication for days or weeks. Cell phone providers would overload and the internet was satellite based, and often go out. You’d also have to balance this with no electricity for random periods of 10 minutes to 10 hours to several days without. Likewise in Pakistan a few years ago (I hear it’s better now), Nepal during dry season, and in the south of The Philippines or more remote areas.
With no communication I can relax off the grid. I can still write offline, process photos etc. In regards to income, this one is easy. I’d pack up, head to a previous destination and work from there on the ground.
In this day and age whereby I have to keep resending emails because the person reading them doesn’t have an attention span over 140 characters. I’d be glad of some old school communication. People actually take the time and effort in business or online to actually care about their product or service. And, build a one on one relationship. Likewise with travel blogs or the like. With a communication black out, we might suddenly see less generic 300 word rehashes, and begin to see some quality, original content emerge again. Less time online, can mean better communication.
Love & Paella
Okay, first off, I would put on sunglasses with extra special UV protection and sunscreen with the highest SPF I can find (must protect the alabaster skin). Then I would consider, but most likely reject, the option of wrapping myself in tin foil. I mean, I’m just being practical here. Email shmemail. Finally, I will take a siesta. I live in Spain, after all. Once I wake up, well rested and even paler than when I started, I will get down to business. First up: TURN OFF ALL ELECTRONIC DEVICES. I’m not sure why I would feel the need to save the batteries – for what, exactly? But it would feel like the right thing to do. Then I would get out a pad of paper, a number two pencil, some postcards and my camera and carry on as normal as I could. The Facebook withdrawals might set in after a day or two, and I’d need to brew some herbal tea to get past the shakes and the sweats – don’t get me started on email. But I wouldn’t mind living the old fashioned way for a little bit, as long as I can still eat paella.
The Professional Hobo
Whack! Ouch. Sorry – I just hit the floor from the palpitations and dizziness that accompany such a thought as losing all connectivity on the road. (Jeez – my head hurts now).
In all seriousness, the above reaction wouldn’t initially be far off for me if a solar flare bereft me of my ability to stay in touch and earn an income from the road. However if something like that happened, I wouldn’t be the only person in strife; the world’s collective reliance on the air waves is such that I believe we’d have a global crisis on our hands; one that would affect just about everything we do, whether or not we travel and earn a living online.
With trepidation, I’ve considered my reliance on my laptop and the internet to stay in touch, earn an income, and research/book my travel plans. Nothing is infallible, and there may well come a time when things get ugly. But until it happens, I don’t think there’s much we can do, save for having enough money in the bank to get through an emergency that could leave us “stranded” – in the physical or cyber world.
Two Stops Past Siberia
As a Peace Corps volunteer, my job is first and foremost to be in my community, 100%. If there was a great failure in communications (and Uncle Sam didn’t pull me out), I would likely be able to focus more on this local community, and in that way, such an event might prove a boon to my time here.
On the other hand, however, technology not only allows me to share my stories with others, it also provides me with support. Whenever I have been ill or suffered other setbacks, it is often people from home, the ones who know me best, who are a major source of inspiration to keep chugging along.
As much fun as tooling around the developing world can be, it is not without its challenges. While this work does not necessarily require access to modern communication technologies (after all, Peace Corps has been around since 1961), the simple act of keeping in touch sure makes it easier.
A Lady In London
I would take stock of what I had with me in terms of money, food, and basic necessities. If I were in a city with access to my country’s embassy or consulate, I would check in with them regularly for any news or updates they could share with me, and any options for assistance. If I were at a hotel, I would ask to be updated on the situation as soon as the ability to communicate returned. Then I would sit back and enjoy the freedom of being unplugged until I ran out of money.
Well, I guess I said I wanted an Adventure….
Total devastation and paralyzing fear would shiver through my body upon hearing the news. I would drop dramatically to the floor and weep all day and all night at the awful reality of not being able to reach my family, friends, and the 80 devoted readers of my travel blog. For several nightmarish days I would probably feel like my life might as well be finished.
But, once I’m done wallowing in my sorrow, as I lay in bed on the morning of the third day, half conscious, half asleep, a faint tingle of relief and exhilaration will slowly start to wiggle its way through the dread.
I’m a writer. All I want to do is write. Technology makes putting my work out into the world easier, but for me it also makes writing harder because I am constantly bombarded with outside opinions and judgments. Being shut off from the rest of the world would have the same effect on me as putting blinders onto a horse running a race; I would finally be able to fully concentrate on running my own race to the best of my ability without being distracted by the screaming fans in the stands or the other runners.
The World By Road
I honestly see it as a nice break. During our expedition, we were often weeks without access to any real communications. Too often bloggers and the new age of media production makes for short and often useless content. Instead of being able to post every day or multiple times per day, perhaps this would bring us back to a time when people sat down and wrote something really thoughtful and compelling, worrying more about quality instead of quantity. Everyone could then be proud of themselves for the one article they actually took more time than an afternoon to write…then it would all get turned back on and ADHD would carry on as usual.
The Beerman Chronicles
Out of communication with the rest of the world… gee, sounds more like an opportunity than a hindrance. Build and launch my own satellite? Not too many bamboo rockets out there, so that would be tough, even with a supply of liquid oxygen. If I had no money, or access to it, I suppose there’s always male prostitution or fan dancing at the local bar. Perhaps not. Maybe barter my skills with the locals for food and shelter, at least until communications come back. My Visa bill would go unpaid… not exactly a shame there. Being disconnected from technology would not be the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. The old standby of paper and pencil could be handy, as I could still chronicle what’s going on around me and eventually relay those writings into an electronic form. My biggest worry would be about the potential chaos and panic amongst the people around me. Communication is the life-blood, and without it, people tend to be completely lost. I think I would wind up trying to be a calming voice for those that are lost, helping people to come to grips with being out of touch with the rest of the world. Information technology doesn’t plant crops (in the general sense), or cook, or light a fire to keep warm. You can’t eat your laptop or smart phone, so the basics of human survival are the most necessary.
Greg Wesson’s Esoteric Globe
De-Evolution drawing by Greg Wesson
What would I do if the global communications systems, upon which I depend for running VagabondJourney.com and bringing in my income, were to crash I burn tomorrow? Well, that is simple: I would go back to making up my bean money as I did before I began this web publishing fiasco. Given that the global social and municipal infrastructure is still standing (probably doubtful in reality) I would return to my old traveling trades of doing farm work, gardening, teaching, archaeology, and return to publishing in print.
But, if the infrastructure that holds much of the developed world together also collapses with the internet, I must say that I would go back to the most underdeveloped of places that I have ever been to — maybe Haiti, the sticks of Patagonia, the north of Iraq, the west of China — and strike up a living there in a profession that is essential and, more or less, locally derived. Maybe I will begin working leather, start making boots, or engage upon learning another trade where the skills that I learn will be timeless and not end up being obsolete in a couple of years (as they are in the world of web publishing haha). In such a scenario, I can’t help but to believe that the global backwaters, which are now mocked as being impoverished and backward, would truly prove to be far more functional than any of the advanced and developed parts of the world — as we go back to square one again.
Gretchen L. Wilson-Kalav
Our Two Cents Worth…
I cannot lie – I have had fun reading all of the above replies. Most everyone agreed, though such a situation would cramp their style, they would look upon it as an opportunity as well. What I found most interesting were the references to money which brought up a very large question in my mind… “How will you access your funds? ATMs? Not likely. Go to a bank? Since you are on the road, how does that bank communicate with the one housing your money to verify you even have funds? Also, banks only have X amount in true cash on hand. With so much of today’s banking taking place online, there goes the fund transfers. Just a thought… But, I digress…
Gary (Arndt) pointed out, this was a highly unlikely scenario – and it was. But, the question was posed as a game of hypothetical “what ifs” as way to make everyone think about extreme circumstances. Our power goes down regularly for hours at a time – one of the hiccups of rural living – and the one that spawned the topic. I hope we won’t need to deal with such a happening anytime soon. If we do, I’m stealing Jasmine’s stick so I can write in the sand. Now to find some sand… Guess I’ll be writing in the snow instead as it’s bound to fall before too long.
Editor’s Note: As always, thank you to everyone who has been a willing participant! I would also like to thank everyone who has contributed to past panel discussions as well. The responses have been numerous, enlightening and much more than I anticipated when I accepted this position. I applaude you all. G.
Gretchen TravelBlogs, 2010