What It Means to Live in a Digital World

By now you’ve probably read one or two articles about last week’s events (perhaps a slight understatement). I’m a bit saturated with the coverage. However, as I write this column, nothing seems more relevant than the impact of the last 200 hours’ events.

It started about a week ago, when we began getting a series of warning email messages from our internal IT department about a virus that was infecting computers worldwide. The now infamous W32.Blaster.Worm took advantage of a security flaw in the Windows operating system and set up a Denial of Service (DoS) attack on windowsupdate.com. It also mocked the world’s richest man: “billy gates why do you make this possible? Stop making money and fix your software!!” This malicious piece of code, 6,176 bytes in length, brought our company and many others to our knees within 24 hours.

All our office’s IP access went down late morning on Wednesday. No Internet access, no network access, no printer access. A few lucky ones’ machines weren’t affected and weren’t rebooting every few minutes. These fortunate few could access files saved locally, typically not the most up-to-date/mission-critical files. It took roughly 30 minutes for people to tidy up their desks, read a magazine, and start roaming the halls.

We had phones, fax machines, and interpersonal communication. Yet everyone was convinced (and rightfully so) without their computers they could accomplish nothing. Those machines based on silicon wafers, born and grown to maturity during my lifetime, are the epicenter of the business world. They’ve risen from the sand (literally) to become the primary tool for communication, production, computation, creation, ideation, and evaluation. Without them, we could not function.

I dismissed my team at 3:30 p.m.

Our dedicated IT staff worked through the night to ensure the network was functioning the next morning. It appeared to be working when I got into the office, and I caught up on the 83 email messages that had amassed in the server queue. I had a particularly productive few hours, penning several Word documents and a number of email diatribes. I was feeling plugged in — wheeling and dealing, moving and shaking. I was in the middle of catching up on some timesheets, when the lights started flickering.

Everyone has a story about what happened after the lights went out on Thursday. Mine is not as dramatic as some. I heard about folks who rented bicycles or bought sneakers, and rode or walked the 15-plus miles home. Others camped out in the city in what was arguably the largest sleepover party New York City had ever thrown.

My wife and I drove home through streets devoid of working traffic lights. A trip that typically takes 45 minutes turned into three and a half harrowing hours. We were very lucky; our trip could have been worse.

In less than 24 hours we had gone from a Digital Age city to a Medieval one. Every facet of human life was affected, and the event put the lives we typically lead into wonderful perspective.

Joni Mitchell sang, “You don’t know what you’ve got/Till it’s gone.” We’re very fortunate to be living in the era we do. So many things are enabled by technology that we routinely take for granted, things as basic as traffic signals, gasoline pumps, and electric power grids.

One day was filled with the awesome power of the computer. The next, we were forced to rely on candles and transistor radios.

If people had any doubts about the paradigm shift living in a digital age has had on civilization over the past few decades, they don’t any longer. I don’t need research companies to tell me about media trends and time spent with the Internet. Technology is the very lifeblood of our lives. I’m a believer. If you lived through the past week’s ordeals, you are, too.

Now let’s stop quibbling over CPMs and measly budgets. Let’s get going. The lights are on, and we have work to do.

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