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How possible is it for humanity to achieve a similar technological level, basically everything we have today including high-end computers, without internet ever introduced or even considered, except for small scientific/government local networks?

If that's possible, what would be the obvious and less obvious consequences?

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  • $\begingroup$ It seems straight forward enough to have it happen, given how new the internet is. We haven't gone very far since the internet came into existence. However, I wanted to clarify: when you say "basically everything we have today including high-end computers," are you referring to the tip-top extreme supercomputers like the Blue Gene series, or are you referring to the fact that we all have an amazingly large amount of computing power sitting on our desks every day? The latter would be hard without the internet to fuel a reason for it. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Apr 26 '17 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ I meant both. Computing power on our desks are mainly for work or entertainment, neither needs internet I believe. $\endgroup$ – Sanko Apr 26 '17 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Most of the power and feature of today's cell phones is for accessing the internet. Not really even sure that cell phones would've gotten off the ground if large area networking wasn't an idea. $\endgroup$ – Seeds Apr 26 '17 at 21:21
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    $\begingroup$ "Basically everything we have today", of course except just-in-time manufacturing (which means that just about any manufactured product would be more expensive), on-line shopping (which means that everything is again more expensive), streaming services, on-line sources of information (try to find out what JIT manufacturing is with no internet), world-wide cheap or even free communication (lookup the cost of one minute transatlantic phone call in 1960)... Plus I don't see how we could reach a high tech level with dumb engineers. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 26 '17 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP JIT manufacturing was developed before the internet. Most telephony doesn't need the internet. The internet is an ideal communications accelerator and boosts service provision. Understanding a world without the internet needs smarter thinking. The internet didn't invent our current high tech level, our high tech invented the internet. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 27 '17 at 11:05
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The Internet is so good that as long as it's possible, it will be created. There are two plausible reasons for not having Internet, and they both depend on external conditions:

Dystopia

DARPA invented the concept of computers networked across a large geographical area. They promptly realized how powerful such ability could be in the hands of the enemy, and immediately banned any kind of macro-scale networking, whether cable or satellite based. Only the military is allowed to have such a power, and they never develop it beyond early warning systems. Even ham radio feeds configured to broadcast 1s and 0s are shut down by goons in suits.

Post-apocalypse

This is essentially a broad category covering a few scenarios:

  • Civilization has collapsed. While modern computers still exist, we do not have the industrial base to build large quantities, nor do we know of anyone we'd want to talk to. The only existing computers are networked together, but they are basically all in the same place anyway, so the Internet is really an Intranet.
  • Government control beyond municipal-level has disappeared, leading to anarchy. We do not have the ability to launch or maintain satellites. We do not have the ability to maintain physical links between remote locations - bandits destroy telephone cables (like they did telegraph cables in the Wild West). Each city has its own Internet, but it's impossible to connect beyond that.
  • Nuclear war happened, filling the atmosphere with some nasty radiation. This radiation fries all unshielded electronic components. The sheer thickness of the necessary lead shielding makes it prohibitively expensive to run wired connections between cities, and atmospheric radiation interferes with radio and satellite signals. Cities maintain shielded technodomes of various sizes, but electronics simply cannot function in the space between technodomes.

As to the consequences, there's really only one possibility:

Sneakernet

A regular ol' truck has a pretty good bandwidth if you fill it up with terabyte hard drives. In the London of days gone by, mailmen made deliveries multiple times a day, allowing gentlemen of letters to carry on a conversation with one another. A bustling courier trade would emerge between individual networks, ferrying data that was mere hours or days out of date. So forget DoTA, but you should be able to get a decent chess-by-email game going.

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It would happen, I think that it would just take a bit longer. Aside from increasing the speed of collaboration, the "internet mindset" has increased the expectations for speed in our culture.

There was computer communication before the internet. For anyone old enough to remember it, we had BBS nets with file sharing, forums, and mail protocols like FIDO and usenet. Individuals with a bank of modems would set their computer up as a server. Then you would upload your files or messages to that server. Once a night (usually), that server would then call another server and send its files there, eventually getting to its destination. Because of the timing of when the servers would call each other, it generally took 3 days to get a message from the west coast to the east coast of the US and 1 day to get messages going in the other direction (note the times may be reversed, I'm relying on memory).

So, collaboration could and did happen. I was on a number of anti-virus, networking, and science fiction forums at the time. We solved problems together but it took longer. If you needed speed, you overnighted a floppy but that didn't happen much. People were OK with the pace. For one thing, you had time to compose your message and make sure that it said what you wanted to say.

Video conferencing would still happen but it would be much more expensive and the quality wouldn't be as good. However, it would work for large company/university collaboration.

To answer the "how" question, it would just take longer. If you want it to take the same amount of time, I recommend having a war. War always spurs tech growth. We have the lasers that power our fiber optic networks (and many other things) because of SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative or the Star Wars Program as it was called).

[Edited to get the name of SDI right.]

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  • $\begingroup$ SDI was the acronym for Strategic Defense Initiative. I have doubts about the lasers powering optic fibre networks being the products of SDI; though that is not impossible. The only new technology coming from SDI, to my knowledge, was adaptive optics. Really good for astronomy. Without the internet, BBS & usernet would have been further developed. This might have produced an internet without the worldwide web anyway. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 27 '17 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android, thank you. I fixed it. A large part of SDI was laser research. So, adaptive optics and better fiber optic lasers both came from SDI. We had fiber optics but the range and throughput were nothing like we have today. I also think that the lasers used in CD & DVD drives were either born by or improved by the SDI laser research but I wasn't sure enough to put it in my answer. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Apr 27 '17 at 20:20
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Repressive dictatorship

Suppose the Soviet Union 'won' the Cold War. The entire world is run by the Supreme Global Soviet. It is not very hard to imagine this world getting to modern technology levels with a few decades of us, yet there being no internet at all (except for government and laboratory networks, as you indicated).

Given a dicatatorship's desire to control the media, I would consider this 1984 scenario to be extremely likely, if liberal democracy were ever to disappear.

Skynet happened

Suppose that the events of Terminator came to pass in the 1990s, but that we humans won. In addition to setting us on a path to a Dune-like anti-transistor future, I would consider it highly likely that networked computers would be strictly forbidden.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ben Bova had the same idea. It was either in in one of his short stories or an essay. However, it's not just dictators that desire controlling the media. There are many other institutions with similar aspirations, many of which are part of democratic societies, and includes the media itself. $\endgroup$ – a4android Apr 27 '17 at 11:15
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If you are thinking about no www and only LAN (local area network) people would expand their LAN to friends/neighbors and so on. There is a country in South America where INTERNET was prohibited, and the locals started to run network cables across streets and so on, they created an completely different kind of network and had their own services running. Even something like Netflix, WoW servers, web pages and even a search engine only for a city.

Sorry but forget the name of the country.

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You couldn't have tech the same as ours without networking. Internet is just a form of networking, therefore something along those lines would develop.

It would be like having phones but no phone networks. Cripple the internet today and huge amounts of businesses, governments, etc,. would be affected immediately and whole departments would cease to function. International trade and logistics would fall to bits.

If there was never local area networks apart from small govt and scientific ones. We wouldn't have the tech advances we have right now. The Western World is driven by money. You just took away a major revenue source and importantly a major communication medium.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't really answer the question. If you think its not possible, you'll need to make a better argument. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 26 '17 at 23:43
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree, feel free to make your own answer. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 26 '17 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ That response is as lazy as your answer. It would be better for this site if you tried harder, since you post a lot. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 26 '17 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ Whats up with the personal comments mate? I don't try and dictate how you answer questions and I'm not breaking any rules. Feel free to move along. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 26 '17 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ You have been posting a lot recently. This is good! It would be better if you spent more time researching your answers. I would categorize most of your posts as 'whatever was on the top of my head,' there usually isn't much evidence of research. You offer answers about a wide variety of topics; you would be a great asset to the site if you offered better thought out answers. This isn't a personal attack, this is constructive criticism, a rare commodity. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Apr 27 '17 at 0:05

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