x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Internet's frail thread

Modern-day dependence on the internet gets an unexpected reality check when a Georgian grandmother cuts an entire country's web access with one blow of her shovel.

As the end of the last century approached, there were concerns that the so-called Millennium Bug, or Y2K, would wreak havoc on computer systems. Technology consultants made short-lived careers by warning of doom and gloom. But when 1999 turned to 2000, the fearsome bug turned out to be nothing more than a mild irritant.

Humans may indeed have become masters of the digital world, but we still have the power to surprise ourselves. Last week, a 75-year-old Georgian woman caused a major internet disruption in her country and cut all service to Armenia by severing a fibreoptics cable while scavenging for copper. Due to her age, Aishtan Shakarian is unlikely to serve the three-year maximum sentence for property destruction.

In the space of just a few years, the internet has become ubiquitous in modern life. The prospects of a bug in computer systems in 2000 raised fears for international banking and public safety systems like air traffic control. These days, everything from government services to iTunes could come crashing down.

Armenia is not alone in its temporary isolation. Only last month, internet users in the UAE suffered after an underseas cable was damaged, although service was rerouted. Just because we have become dependent on the internet, it does not mean it will always be there . A grandmother with a shovel could be a reality check.