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Published May 31st 2012

What Would Happen if the Internet Just… Collapsed?

Guest-blogger Jen Thames ponders what might happen if our beloved internet were taken away from us.

Waking up this morning I looked out and saw the dewdrops glistening off a large spider web in the garden. Each water droplet shined in the sunlight like a little diamond, the entire structure quivered slightly in the morning breeze.

It was absolutely magical, and then, as if from nowhere, a great black beast plowed through the web slicing it to ribbons. My black Labrador Buddy stared up through the window wagging his tail.

It got me wondering: what would happen if the web crashed? What would we all do?

Initially, no doubt, we would all sit around waiting for it to come back up. An hour would pass and then an afternoon, even a solid day might just pass as a welcomed “unplug” holiday.

However, what would happen if one day became two, a week or even a month?

To start, there would be no email, no blogs, no Facebook and no Tweets.

However, there are things far greater than trivial communication disruption at risk.

With an enormous DNS Charger malware threat looking to remove an estimated 450,000 systems from the Internet right around the corner in July, as well as suggestions by the FBI that US travelers abroad are being targeted by viruses, it is actually rather a good time to ask these questions.

What would happen if the Internet around the world just crashed like the spider web in my garden?

Financial Chaos

Let’s start with publicly-held companies like Google and eBay, as well as considering the likes of Apple and Samsung, who both depend on the Internet for hardware sales.

Together these companies and their stocks power large sections of the US stock market and world economies. An Internet crash that lasted for any length of time would grind these businesses to a halt and send their stocks reeling, causing serious panic in financial markets around the world.

The ‘too big to fail’ myth doesn’t exclusively apply to banks.

The financial panic would be further fueled by the inability of most traders to access the instantaneous price data they reply upon to run their trading algorithms.

It is unclear if the lack of data would increase or decrease hysteria. In addition, the entire buying and selling system of financial instruments once known as the “pits” or the “floor” has largely disappeared.

The facilities for placing and taking phone orders – a common way to trade even 15 years ago – has all but disappeared.

Very literally there are no secondary systems to handle the volume of trading that would be expected to ensue.

This would initially slow declines in share prices but it would also further degrade customer morale and trust in the entire financial system and the Internet: “what do you mean you can’t sell my stock when I say sell?”

Whole sections of banking and bill payment systems would also crumble. No online bill pay, no bills for customers who opt to get their bills delivered electronically, no electronic send for payroll.

Whole sections of banking would no longer function and grind to a halt. It’s fair to say that at least half the value of the stock market would be wiped out in just a couple of days.


An Internet crash would leave online students and even traditional college students clueless as to how to spend their days and get information.

Internet is a dorm essential. Libraries, class schedules, student materials, registration, financial aid, and almost every other section of today’s higher education rely heavily on Internet communications.


A disruption in the Internet would stop sales on Amazon, eBay, PayPal and  – horror of horrors – clothes retailers!

Countless global businesses that operate via the Internet would grind to a halt. Beyond the upheaval in Internet businesses, world commerce that relies heavily on the Internet for communications to initiate, manage and finalize international sales would slow massively.

Even if only sections of the Internet collapsed, interwoven international sales would suffer. Then of course there is the problem of any business or individual that relies upon Cloud Computing for accounting services, inventory, payroll, etc.

Whole sections of businesses would no longer function even if the rest of their businesses operate entirely offline.


It isn’t called IT without reason. Every news organization relies heavily on the Internet for instantaneous information.

Much like the stock market, organizing and disseminating the news without the Internet is unthinkable. Tweets, sources, even the newswires all now depend upon the Internet.

To make matters even a bit more interesting there is the new introduction of the 4G LTE wireless networks to consider.

Designed to handle data at lightening speeds the new 4G LTE will replace CDMA and GSM cell phone networks within a few years. This is really exciting; the bit about 4G LTE that isn’t as exciting is that the network runs voice through voice over Internet protocol (VOIP).

Guess what? With 4G LTE, no Internet, no cell phone.

The only phones that would remain relatively unscathed would be the solar powered satellite phones that are now being installed in the remotest sections of Australia. How ironic.

Removal of the internet, even for just a few days, would effectively wipe out almost every system we rely upon in the West.

Luckily, taking out the entire Internet overnight would be difficult. There isn’t a large building somewhere where the spider lives. Even taking out all of Palo Alto would still leave large sections of the web up and running.

Still, it is interesting to contemplate how important this new technology has become in all areas of our lives. “Unplug” no longer seems like a stress free holiday.

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