What happens when the Internet goes down?

    So right after Arctic15, we decided to take some of our speakers to the worlds most northern point with a permanent population – Svalbard. Basically to see polar bears, do some dogsledding and see the most remote Russian towns, including the worlds northernmost Lenin statue.

    Yet, we were there looking for some sort of a wow-factor. We even created a fake picture of a polar bear using a stuffed toy (see below).

    With 10 minutes left until take-off, there was no story. Then my internet went down on the phone. This was followed by all the screens in the airport changing to 404 error messages.

    “We are sorry, but the internet communication just went down, we are working on getting it back as soon as possible, before continuing with the check-in procedure.” the lady announced.

    Not a problem and thirty minutes later we were told to go through check-in “manually”.

    Basically, they just jotted down our names and off to the plane we were.

    Once inside and ready to go, the captain declared: “We are sorry, we have absolutely no communication with the mainland. There is a problem with the cable.”

    There is only one fibre cable connecting Svalbard to the rest of the world. It is a rather important cable, as it also powers the NASA research centers, the local hospital, the local mobile networks and more.

    The fun thing is that without the connection, the plane will not go. At all. They do not have the old-school technology anymore and require the connection. Moreover if the cable is broken somewhere on the bottom of the sea, it would take weeks if not months to repair.

    It is ironic that when you are in the most northern place on earth, the only thing stopping you from leaving is the internet connection.

    So for all intents and purposes, the internet was down. Everywhere. Mobile network was also down and the satellite phones barely worked. They had to ask somebody to drive down to the city from the airport to order us all some food.

    No credit card payments, no phone calls, no Facebook updates, no planes. What is perhaps most interesting – no people on their phones. We met a journalist from the New York Times, talked to some people from Estonia, a researcher from Norway and more.

    Everybody was socializing, talking, and getting to know each other. Yet, the internet is back up now and the “life” has resumed. Everyone is back to their “online” lives and phone calls. And so are we. Off we go.

    Top image of Buildings in the town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway by shutterstock, because Dmitri didn’t send any more pictures.