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The genie is out of the bottle - what to do now?

It was around 5 am New Zealand time on 5 October 2021, and I was in a deep sleep in my bed. At that time, I had no idea what massive up-side-down phenomenon was happening over the worldwide internet system. The incident irrupted as soon as the entire Facebook web page went down along with Instagram and WhatsApp. Finally, it came to my attention during my early morning scamping of news headlines on my iPhone. However, my eyes did not glue to the news as I am not a big fan of Facebook. I am not a regular user of social media either, so I thought that the unavailability of Facebook was not a big deal! And- indeed, I was naive!


I might be one of those odd persons in this world who is still struggling to grasp the charm of online social networking. But the world around me has been changed dramatically. Later that morning, seeing the emotional outburst of many of my relatives, friends, and colleagues, I realised that the virtual world of social networks can't be ignored anymore.


When my daughter came to see me that morning - her face was grumpy. With a highly frustrated voice, she said - "Dad, Instagram is not working." Later in the morning, I was going through a project discussion with my colleagues. Then many of them complained of instant chatting disruption due to unavailability of the Facebook's Messenger application. Later in the day, when Facebook came on life, I have noticed a Facebook post from my Sydney based sister, which said - "Good morning friends. I had an early morning tantrum as FB was down. Now back to self again!" At night I have realised that my overseas friends could not make any social network noise throughout the day, and suddenly they started to express extreme pleasure as if they had got back their genie again! And this is the genie I am talking about. The genie, which you can't see or touch. The genie, which exists only in the virtual world. The genie, which requires a prudent master in charge when it is unleashed.


On 5 October 2021, the Facebook blackout continued for about 6 hours. The internet burst was so huge that financial pundits almost immediately calculated that Facebook lost about $60 million in revenue during that time. As a result, Facebook founder cum CEO Mark Zuckerberg suddenly becomes $6 billion poorer. This revenue loss is only related to Facebook itself. Most likely, it is too early to estimate the total economic cost of this social-media outage. And I am sure the vast amount of negative social and emotional value associated with these six hours of Facebook unavailability will never be accounted for by the economists. If you want to compare the actual cost of this Facebook outage with the total economic cost of the August 2003 power blackout in North America, you will be surprised.


An electricity blackout started shortly after 4 pm EDT on 14 August 2003. It affected more than 50 million people on both sides of the US-Canadian border, including large urban centres like New York City and Toronto. At that time, most places were able to restore power within 7 hours. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimated then that the total financial loss of the blackout was about $6 billion. Is it not astonishing to see that within more or less the same timeframe, one person, ie. Mark Zuckerberg has lost the same amount of money!


On top of that, you can't forget about the unprecedented extent of grievances in October 2021 faced by 5.89 billion users of Facebook (2.89 billion), Instagram (1 billion) and WhatsApp (2 billion). In comparison to 50 million electricity-less hapless North Americans in August 2003, the demographic extent of the current Facebook outage effect is simply enormously huge. And this is the action of an unleashed genie who can't be ignored anymore as a fantasy character of the Aladin fairy tale. Instead, this genie is an absolute reality due to our 21st Century virtual world, which sometimes looks more important than our natural world.


Currently, we are living at the early age of the 21st Century. And we have already started to witness that every facet of our lives is changing at lightning speed. Most interestingly, these changes are not happening in an organised way. Primarily technology is driving the changes, but we have no idea who is doing what! World Wide Web and digital accessibility offer an unprecedented opportunity to the remotest corners of the world to become the next generation of Bell Labs, Google, or SpaceX. Technology is no longer in the hands of any state power or elite group, or ruling class. Overnight a nightmare for an entire country can be appeared by any 10th-grade kiddo using his/her computer hacking capability. Digital algorithms are more potent than human judgements in many areas of our decision-making process. We can sense the true nature of capitalism in the form of socialism, which offers equal opportunity for 7 billion human beings on this planet to prosper and grow without any boundary. The new economic order is writing a new script for our environmental and social spheres too.


As morning shows the day - we can assume that the changes will continue in the coming days, but we have no idea about the ultimate effects of these changes. It demonstrates that the future of humanity is unpredictable, and the situation will be more complex. The users and beneficiaries of the current digital genie need to be as judicious as possible to operate effectively. The digital world has been already created. We like it or not, it does not matter. It is out there and available to toddlers, teenagers, adults and senior citizens too.


Facebook is no longer just a social networking service for a group of Harvard University students. Amazon, the world's largest marketplace, is no longer an online book store running from Jeff Bezos' home garage in Seattle. Apple, the world's tech giant, is no longer located in Steve Jobs' parents' home on Crist Drive in Los Altos, California. Google is no longer an ordinary search engine, called Backrub, invented in the student dormitory at Stanford University. The digital genie is out of its bottle. There is no way we can't take it back to its dungeon. We need to use consciousness to assess the power of this unleashed genie.


To find historical events involving technological disasters, I searched the web, and found an interesting article written by Eric Scigliano. In his 1 June 2002 essay, published in MIT Technology Review, Mr Scigliano nicely described - 10 Technology Disasters, starting from a 17th-century Swedish warship event. One of his introductory statements of the article needs to be noted here -


These events vary widely as to when, where, how and why they happened. But they all show how trusted technologies can suddenly go wrong, and how flaws that seem trivial or, in retrospect, painfully obvious can have devastating consequences.


In this context, I would like to emphasise that technological innovations of the 4th Industrial Revolution like AI or IoT could appear as game changers in determining our lives. Still, we cannot underestimate the enormous brainpower of human beings. Throughout the history of human civilisation, human minds helped us take the right path to move forward. Unfortunately, the journey was not smooth. It went through trials and errors, misjudgements, vested interests and individual ill motives. Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, seventy-six years have gone by, the arsenal of nuclear weapons of various countries are getting bigger and bigger. But it is necessary to note that not a single atomic bomb has been used again to resolve an armed conflict in this world. Even we have seen large scale wars and battles, but no nuclear war yet, because the rational behaviour of modern humans allowed them to make the right decision at the right time.


In the end, the good wins. The humans did not allow the technology to take the driver's seat. Human life is not static – it has been going through phases of various types of changes. During this journey, the humans showed extreme adaptiveness and flexibility in addressing critical issues and making decisions. That is where we will find the silver bullet to combat the digital genie, which is out of its bottle now.


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