Cambridge Massachusetts – Present Day
“What do you think would happen if the internet backbone was suddenly disabled?” It was a theoretical question projected on a slide near the end of a TED Talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
The speaker was a USAF Colonel representing his boss, General Gordon Long, Commanding Officer for the Information Warfare Center. Colonel Jasper “Jazz” Rogers enjoyed his role because he was a believer. He believed that the nature of war between nation states had permanently changed, and the world, including leaders of his own government hadn’t yet caught up.
Jazz Rogers believed that armed combat was a thing of the past. He believed that if a government’s diplomacy failed, instead of inflicting bloodshed and distraction, technology would enable the crippling of an adversary by taking down their infrastructure, thus forcing them to the negotiation table. He was also excited about the possibility of leveraging opportunity cost savings from the reduced need for traditional military hardware.
In response to the thought provoking question on the screen, a graduate student in his twenties stood to address it with a comment. “After about three days, the world as we know it would be in turmoil. Grocery store shelves would be empty. There would be lines at gas stations and people would panic.”
On hearing this, a young African American lady leaned forward shaking her head in the negative. “I disagree. We’re talking about the internet. Have we forgotten that it wasn’t easily accessible by the masses until the mid ’90s? It might be difficult at first, but Americans are pretty adaptable and we’d figure out a way to work around this loss of capability.”
Jazz jumped in to facilitate further dialogue and clicked the remote changing the image on the screen with to display a final question. “What if telecommunications were suddenly disabled?”
“For how long?” came a voice from the back of the audience.
“Assume it would be indefinitely,” said Jazz.
The lecture hall erupted with the sounds of low voices conversing all at once. The young African American lady came forward and walked toward the Colonel, her eyes boring into him.
“You may think that the spirit of humanity can be crippled into turmoil simply by taking away the ability access the inventions of the last century, but human beings have been on planet earth for a lot longer,” she said.
“So you don’t think societies would fall into turmoil and that places like Harvard Square wouldn’t become dangerous?” challenged Jazz.
“I didn’t say that things like that wouldn’t happen. It just doesn’t sound like you’re giving humanity much credit. There’s also the concept of altruism to consider.”
Another male student dressed in expensive cloths came forward and addressed the young lady. “There would be turmoil,” he said to her in a calm voice and paused before going on. “For a while there would be turmoil. Then we would find a way to carry on.”
Colonel Rogers listened to their brief dialogue. Before continuing with the facilitated discussion he had planned then he asked the young woman, “What are you studying?”
“Philosophy in government,” she replied.
“When I get back to Fort McNair I’ll have to inform my boss that we’re going to need more liberal arts graduates on our team. What is your name?”
“Amanda. Amanda Jones. Never forget the strength and innovation that comes with hope,” she said.
“I’ll remember that. Thank you. People don’t like uncertainty Ms. Jones.”
“Only one thing is certain Colonel. Just one.”
“Yes, I know, each and every life is finite. So philosophically speaking, we live in a world of constant turmoil and somehow we manage to make order of it all.