Two cheers for the preppers – The Spectator World


Really, the Facebook crash shouldn’t have been as entertaining as it was. Like Jon Stokes, the founder of Ars Technica, observed, if Facebook, with its hyper-sophisticated software and security practices, is vulnerable to a sudden collapse, what does that say about energy infrastructure running on “old Windows installations”? The potential for much greater carnage is enormous.

But he was entertaining, and I think that made the damage so bad that Facebook’s office security systems crashed and its employees couldn’t enter the building to fix the problem. These are some of the smartest people in the world and they couldn’t get through a door. You can imagine the coffee cooling in their paper cups.

The younger days of the pandemic sparked the idea of ​​a world overwhelmingly mediated by technology. Who even needed offices when we had Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, etc? Still, all it took was a “bad configuration change” and WhatsApp crashed along with Facebook and Instagram.

This special occasion reminds us of the value of material possessions – and I emphasize Equipment, as in “to exist in material form”. The Facebook outage gives us a chance to reflect that much of the photos, videos, songs, texts, etc. that we think of as our own depend on other people’s software to be accessible and exist. If an application disappears, we can lose everything.

Of course, physical objects don’t need to be more resilient than data. Facebook has reappeared with all of its users’ content after this configuration change took it offline as a lit match left lazily abandoned inside an art gallery could lead to devastation from which only the ashes emerge. . Still, it’s worth having a physical alternative of your favorite photographs or texts – a backup that you can keep, that no configuration change can reach.

It was one of many small but suggestive incidents that illustrated how less solid the software and infrastructure that supports our lives are than we had imagined. All the complex systems that run through our societies like pipes and beams through buildings have been shaken. There was the Texas electricity crisis in February, which reportedly left Lone Star State within four minutes of the total grid collapse. There are resource shortages caused by, according to an informative report from Axes, “Pandemic restrictions, labor shortages and record prices for Chinese shipping containers.” Hell, one could even mention the blockage of the Suez Canal, which, while hilarious, withheld $ 9 billion in global trade a day.

Of course, these problems are not inevitable facts of life. Pandemic restrictions should be lifted, with the International Chamber of Shipping rightly demanding “an end to fragmented travel rules and restrictions that have severely affected the global supply chain and endangered the health and well-being of our international transport staff “. A nation like the United States shouldn’t be so pathetically dependent on imports from China. A ship blocking the Suez Canal, meanwhile, was an unnatural event – and barring an unprecedented increase in alcoholism among cargo ship crews, it will remain so. With these things beyond our reach, my thoughts turn to those largely mocked enthusiasts, the preppers.

Granted, some proponents of hoarding canned beans and building a makeshift nuclear bunker in your basement are bananas – either paranoid, misanthropic people who take quiet pleasure in being in. safe and warm while their neighbors freeze to death or kill and eat each other, or both. But the general premises of the phenomenon have an uncomfortable meaning: to keep a cupboard full of food before you have to complete the thing, have some sort of independence from your energy suppliers, and have a basic knowledge of emergency procedures, from medicine to self-defense.

I don’t believe some sort of collapse is imminent. (Although it’s always tempting for opinion commentators to suggest it, because if they’re wrong no one remembers them, and if they’re right, they look like fantastic geniuses.) waits being stuck in a bear stalk forest with no food or water, but because even a small risk warrants preparation. Of course, in all likelihood a campfire will end with a nice song, but why not make sure you have some disaster agency?

When you think of preppers, you can imagine insect-eyed Alex Jones junkies raving about nuclear war with China. The authors of the website “The Preparedness” are more sober than that, observing how survival skills can be used not only in the midst of civilizational crises, but after all, from power cuts to sudden layoffs. “The point of preparation,” their introduction tells us, “is to reduce the risk of major life disruptions and to recover better from disruptions when they do occur. That’s it!”

The danger of this kind of thinking becomes morbid. Spend too much time thinking about what to put in your “bug out bag” – a collection of emergency supplies that you can take with you if you have to leave your home – and you might be so focused on the job. preventing death that you will forget to experience, as the kind of dieter who analyzes every ingredient in their meals and quickly drops dead from a stress-induced heart attack.

But maybe being prepared can help us learn to live. Agency is still an important word. Technology has given us considerable freedom, but we have also ceded considerable powers and responsibilities. In the midst of my own fun when Facebook crashed, I must have thought that if the website somehow disappeared, some of my favorite photographs would be lost forever – and, without them, them. memories would lose their richness and detail. When I hear about unstable supply chains I feel rather vulnerable and pathetic like the kind of man who, waking up to find an empty fridge, buys breakfast on the way work.

No one can be ready for anything, life is too complex, but we can always prepare. Tangible objects and skills will always have a place.

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