Review of Why the Net Matters

The full title is “Why the Net Matters:  Six Easy Ways to Avert the Collapse of Civilization,” by David Eagleman.  This book is recommended to all who have growth mindsets.  It provides a good vehicle for growing one’s mind.  The healthy memory blog has had a variety of posts on technology, the potential it offers, and possible threats it potentially portends.  Eaglemen poses the question, “Why Do Civilizations Collapse/“, and discusses six reasons previous civilizations have collapsed.

Epidemics have wiped out some civilizations.

Knowledge has been destroyed.  He cites the burning of the Library of Alexandria, which at the time was the sole repository of available knowledge.  The writings of the Mayans were destroyed by the colonizing Spaniards.  Many other examples are provided.

Natural disasters in the form of wind, water, fire, and quakes have toppled carefully built civilizations in a day.

Tyrants have destroyed civilizations and have stunted the development of their own civilizations.

The necessary resources required to sustain a population are not met.  Eagleman notes that these are not mutually exclusive causes.  Frequently different causes interact to wipe out the civilization.

Anthropologist Joseph Tainter suggests that societies fail because they do not change their fixed designs for solving problems.  Arnold Toynbee noted that civilizations find problems that they cannot solve.  In other words, the societies collapse due to insufficient human capital.

Eagleman argues that the net provides the basis for avoiding all these causes of the collapse of previous civilizations.  No guarantees are provided, and unless the net is used to advance, these causes can reoccur.  Moreover, he does identify new threats.

He discusses four ways that the net can go down.

The first is through cyberwarfare, a threat with which we all are aware.

The second is by cutting cables.  He identified cases of cable cutting of which I had be entirely unaware.

The third is by political mandate.  In other words, governments shut down the net.

The fourth is via space weather.  Satellites have been disabled via solar flares, but the threat goes beyond satellites.  When a massive solar flare erupts on the sun, it can cause geomagnetic storms on earth.  The Carrington flare, which occurred in 1859 sent telegraph wires across Europe and American into a sparking, frizzing frenzy.  It boggles the imagination to consider the damage that would occur were such a flare to occur today.  Theoretically, a major solar event could melt down the whole net.

Eagleman proposes a seed vault for the net.  There is a Global Seed Vault in Svalband, Norway.  It holds duplicate samples of seeds held in gene banks worldwide.  If a nuclear winter were to wipe out all the crops on the planet, future generations could reboot the agricultural systems.  Eagleman proposes a similar vault for the net.

In short, this is a good read for a growth mindset.

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