Damn beavers!

Dian Cohen
Damn beavers!
Dian Cohen (Photo : Courtesy)

On April 20, 2021 Rogers Communications Inc. said a software glitch had left millions of customers without access to voice calls, texting and data services right across the country. On April 26 Telus said their 36-hour outage was caused by a beaver (or two) chewing through their fibre cables. These two incidents in one week reminded me of the worst outage in North American history – August 14, 2003, when 50 million people in Ontario and 8 American states lost power for two days – no radio, no TV, ATMs, no credit cards, $2.3 billion of manufacturing shipments lost, a total dollar cost of $6 billion, and untold costs in terms of missed employment, school, hospital interventions, etc. And of course, the inevitable and equally unhelpful politicians’ finger-pointing.
Which brings us to today.
Covid-19, although not yet a thing of the past, has provided evidence of several things we weren’t sure of. First and foremost, humankind’s mastery of science has turned what used to be an uncontrollable force of nature into a manageable challenge. The 1918 flu killed 55,000 Canadians; Covid less than half that number. Worldwide the 1918 flu killed 50 million, Covid to date about 4 million. The difference: the incredible advances in automation, digitization, biotechnology and the scientific communities’ agreement to share information globally.
Second, and just as revealing, politicians around the globe are not yet up to the job. As historian Yuval Harari said recently, “Many fail to understand a simple fact about this pandemic: as long as the virus continues to spread anywhere, no country can feel truly safe… in contrast (to the scientists) politicians have failed to form an international alliance against the virus and agree to a global plan.” And we witness politicians with fingers pointed far too often.
Third, many of us almost seamlessly became citizens of two worlds – the physical one where the virus endangers us and the virtual one where is doesn’t exist.
Which, again, brings us to today. In just over a year, 700 million more people started using the internet. Globally, almost two-thirds of humanity is online, either by phone, or tablet or desktop. Three out of four Canadians have purchased something online in the last 12 months. And the internet hasn’t crashed. How would we fare if it did? I’m not thinking about a software glitch or a gnawing beaver or two. I’m talking about a solar flare or a cyber hack.

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