A once-in-a-century solar storm could break the internet – oh well, at least I can get some reading done

Wary as we all ought to be of such an event’s wider ramifications, it’s just a short self-absorbed hop to start wondering if this at least might boost my shrivelling productivity

Ivo Graham
Thursday 09 September 2021 15:43
comments
Solar Storms Could Cause An “Internet Apocalypse”

Two weeks after my single night at the Edinburgh Fringe (and via other stand-up jaunts to Coventry, Cardiff, and, less adventurously, the Hurlingham Club), I found myself at the opposite end of the UK this week, couriering two boxes of Krispy Kreme to Bodmin for my friend Alex’s birthday. (Worth noting that my invitation was not conditional on donut delivery, and that said delivery visibly baffled several other members of the travelling party.)

This was my second Cornish pilgrimage of this year, the first another of the quasi-journalistic fact finding missions that I, Fern Brady and Darren Harriott were sent on by the Dave channel in the spring, in this case chatting to various political movers and shakers (the deputy mayor of St Ives! The Mebyon Kernow councillor for Grampound!) about Cornwall’s identity, and the ways it is, to say the least, not always enhanced by the droves of big city opportunists who jump on the train to their Airbnbs at the first hint of a heatwave.

Having nodded sagely throughout several of these conversations, it was with a certain self-consciousness that I rocked up at Paddington, a mobile patisserie in a floral shirt, to join my big city pals in their Airbnb at the first hint of a heatwave.

The wholesome resolution for the travel, with nine hours on the rails ahead of me – four down, then five back with a stop off for a tour show in Taunton (a highly enjoyable evening at the Brewhouse, though derailed on more than one occasion by a man in a Clash T-shirt correcting my pronunciation of “Slough”) – was that I could get some reading done (at least until Exeter, at which point you’re duty bound to gaze out of the window at the Dawlish-Teignmouth sea wall, truly a vista to rival or even top my beloved “last hour of London to Edinburgh”).

Resolved to finish my elephantine Jonathan Franzen before launching myself into the Sally Rooney Discourse, I inevitably did neither, because, tantalised by train WiFi that was Nearly Good Enough To Watch The Cricket But Only For Very Short Bursts, I streamed and scrolled and somehow frittered away my train journey as quickly as England frittered their final eight wickets. I managed to tear myself away from my damn phone to look at the vistas for a bit, but the books stayed in the bag, as they always do. Will there ever be a train journey long enough?

In semi-related news, there have been reports this week that the Earth could be hit later this year by a “Solar Superstorm”, as if 2021’s plate wasn’t quite full enough. Those among us feeling, if anything, a little too deafened by the ticking of the various doomsday clocks may take some small comfort that this latest shudder of imminent disaster isn’t man-made (it’s to do with disturbances on the sun’s surface and, to our credit, even Elon isn’t going that far yet), although the storm is called a “Coronal Mass Ejection”, and perhaps the C-word has had quite enough headlines without getting in on the superstorm action too.

With the extreme rarity (about once a century) of these superstorms, and the most powerful having been the “Carrington Event” of 1859 (a name which arguably underplays the drama compared to “Superstorm”), this would be, to use another of our favourite buzzwords, unprecedented stuff.

So here we are, 162 years on post-Carrington, with California University researcher Sangeetha Abdul Jyoti presenting papers at SIGCOMM 2021 (much more dramatic) to warn of another such superstorm which, in the digital age, could be set to wreak an “internet apocalypse” – blackouts of hours if not days.

Wary as we all ought to be of such an event’s wider ramifications, it’s just a short self-absorbed hop to immediately start wondering if this at least might boost my shrivelling productivity and attention span, forever chipped away at by the constant temptation of semi-viable WiFi. I recently received a warning from my phone’s Safari app that I could open no more new tabs because I was at my maximum of 500. 500! 500 half-read articles, abandoned present ideas, or Test match refreshes, most of which I’m still deluding myself that I’ll get back to at some point.

En route home from Taunton, I got rid of about 10, but the overall scale of the task, and the various confrontations of nostalgia and indecision it entails, meant that an internet apocalypse would at least mean I would have to stop adding to the pile for a bit. Bin off the tabs, and read a book. Ideally I’d still be able to do this off my own bat without the sun getting involved, but it is what it is.

Ivo Graham is currently on tour; ‘British As Folk’ starts Monday 13 September on Dave

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments