Iran may not be willing to wield the chain saw – yet – but Egypt certainly was in January 2011 when its desperate government shut down all the country’s major internet service providers, bringing over 90% of online activity crashing down with them. It was a tactic that didn’t prevent revolution – and which by some estimates cost the country $18 million in lost economic activity per day – but it was also easy enough to achieve and extremely hard to resist, thanks not least to the consequences that internet service provider employees (themselves very much physically present in Egypt) were likely to face if they failed to comply.
Censorship, revolution and digital blackouts can seem a long way from environmental brow-beating. Yet a clear common thread connects them. In an age when information is an inherently political commodity, to act as though the privileges of the digital present – from the infinite suffusion of cloud services to the political freedom to use them – are simply conjured from the ether is to have your head in a perilous proverbial cloud.
Similarly, as even Arthur C Clarke might have conceded, there’s no such thing as magic: there’s only someone being fooled, and someone doing the fooling. And no sufficiently advanced society can afford to fool itself, if it hopes either to understand its present or to protect its future.