A Few Keystrokes Away From Digital Dark Ages

There is talk now of a Digital Dark Ages brought about either by info-hating nomads or some accident. We are as vulnerable now as Europeans were in the 12th century. The Internet is one big place, just like the leftovers of the Roman Empire, ripe and ready for a gang of neo-barbarians.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

What would New Year's Day be without predictions about the year to come? Well, commentator Andrei Codrescu offers this prediction: Things will go wrong.

ANDREI CODRESCU: There is talk now of a digital dark ages, brought about by either info-hating nomads or some accident. We are as vulnerable now as Europeans were in the 12th century. The Internet is one big place, just like the leftovers of the Roman Empire, ripe and ready for a gang of neo-barbarians. The difference is that it took the medieval dark ages years before they got started, while it might take but a few seconds to get us to the digital ones. It would take but a few keystrokes to start up the nuclear winter, the illiterate millennia or the digital dark ages.

The fact that they haven't yet occurred is one more proof that our angels are on the job. In Europe, back in the 1200s, they were sleeping. Now and then, the thought of how fragile we are hits me - not like an idea, but as a feeling. Tiny human being drives into big tree, or big wind sweeps up your house or river sucks you under. Or wireless quits.

All this happens all the time, but you don't notice it until it happens to 4,000 people at once, or a million or several million. And the more interconnected we become, the more likely it is that what happens to one can instantly happen to many. It amazes me that anything I see is around long enough for me to believe that it's actually there.

Many things are not, of course, still around after I've seen them, and I don't miss the ones that vanish before I had a chance to see and miss them. But enough of them are there long enough so I can call them real. I'm afraid to sleep for fear they'll vanish, so I watch and wonder. I know it's not firewalls that keep us safe. It's got to be angels.

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NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu edits Exquisite Corpse. That's a literary journal online at corpse.org.

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