Almost two years ago the Badger wrote an item entitled ‘Connection lost, please move your unit closer to the meter’, text which appeared on his home energy monitor when wireless connectivity to his domestic smart meter was lost. Today, the energy monitor and smart meter are in the same locations, the energy suppliers are the same, but energy has become a precious and expensive commodity due to world events. The Badger, like many, has been using his monitor in recent months to influence his energy usage, and he’s noticed that the ‘connection lost’ message has been slowly rising in frequency.
Is the monitor faulty? Investigation suggests not. After eliminating possible sources of wireless interference, the Badger thinks the message might be triggered as a consequence of remote update activity associated with the smart meter and its communication network. It’s no big deal in the scheme of things, because powering the monitor off and on after the message appears usually re-establishes normal function. The message, however, has prompted the Badger to wonder more expansively about the wisdom of life that has digital communication networks at the heart of everything we do. These days we seem to take things labelled ‘smart, ‘online’, ‘live’, ‘digital’, ‘streaming’, ‘driverless’, ‘cashless’, and ‘AI’ for granted and forget that they are all critically dependent on unseen communication networks. What if catastrophe befell these networks? It’ll never happen, you might say, but have you given any thought to the impact on yourself or your family if it did? Probably not.
Our dependence on such networks is ever rising. Today, for example, the Badger cannot just turn up at his local community swimming pool, pay cash, have a swim, and pay cash for a post-swim coffee. A visit must be booked and paid for online in advance, and all refreshment and retail services at the pool are cashless. The Badger and the pool operator are thus already completely reliant on the unseen communication networks that are the ‘critical infrastructure’ of modern life. Most people assume that a truly catastrophic failure of this infrastructure is unthinkable because governments and enterprises know their importance and have policies, processes, and plans in place to mitigate the risks. However, this assumption may be erroneous because, as events in recent years show, the unthinkable happens and plans may never be quite what they seem.
So, if you have a few minutes spare then give some thought to what you would do if a catastrophic network failure rendered everything ‘smart’, ‘online’, ‘live’, ‘digital’, ‘streaming’, ‘driverless’, or ‘cashless’ unusable for weeks or more. The Badger’s no doomster, but a life totally reliant on digitally connected services feels akin to placing all your eggs in one basket. That’s never a good idea because, as sure as eggs are eggs, one day the unthinkable will happen and we will all have to cope.