Going offline

This week I’ve been thinking about going offline, at several levels. Two reasons come to mind; I might want to intentionally go offline, to simplify my life, take a rest from the notifications and constant updates. Or, I might find myself offline, because the power goes out, the internet goes down, etc. This is hugely frustrating if you’ve become dependent on that constant connection. It’s like an addiction, and the longer you are forced to wait, the more uncomfortable you become.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about the internet. Many things can go offline at many different levels. Here’s a few I’ve come up with.

Level 1: Internet goes offline

Imagine the internet going out. This happens to most of us from time to time, but how much frustration it causes depends on what you use it for. I’ll spell out a few of the effects:

  • No web browsing / “cloud”
  • No emails
  • No Skype/chat
  • No streaming videos / Youtube
  • No online shopping
  • No online customers

How to live at Level 1:

If you can, try to reduce the amount of internet dependence in your life. Get off of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. The less you use it, the less you’ll miss it. While the internet is on, keep everything local. Run a local email client instead of the web-based one. Save articles to hard disk, and print out important reference materials. Establish alternate ways to communicate with friends and family. Also, if this is a localized outage, have a portable kit (laptop) that you can take to the library or a friend’s house, and stay focused tightly during your limited internet time.

Level 2: Computers go offline

This is a little contrived, but imagine your computer, phone, and tablet all switched off entirely. Tasks you might have done even without internet are now impossible, as well as cell phone calls and texting.

  • No word processor/printer
  • No programming/coding
  • No digital music
  • No texts or calls
  • No digital media playback

How to live at Level 2:

For most folks Level 2 is not much harder than Level 1. With the internet already out, there’s not much left that you normally do with your phone or computer. However, if you are coming at this long term, you’ll need to switch to analog versions of all the above. Use a landline for calls, or a ham radio. Write things on paper (or find a typewriter!) Play your music on CDs or cassette tapes. Read a book, pick up an instrument.

Level 3: Electricity goes offline

Everyone has experienced this now and then. The effects get worse the longer the power is out. This is a big step, because most of the typical household is electric, and very few people are set up with backup generators.

  • No air conditioning
  • No central furnace
  • No electric lights
  • No kitchen appliances
  • No washer/dryer
  • No refrigerator
  • No freezer
  • No power tools
  • No welding
  • Electric fencing failure

How to live at Level 3:

This is a very intricate problem. Electricity has woven itself into our lives so tightly, that it will be impossible to get rid of (unless you embrace the Amish lifestyle). You’ll want to reduce your electrical dependence as much as you can. Learn to use the manual version of everything – nobody needs an electric can opener or a power stapler. Find a way to cook without electricity, using a gas stove or even a propane grill.

Make sure you can at least heat part of your house without power. Propane and kerosene heaters are effective, you’ll need fuel for both. In summer, the A/C will be off… Take the time now, and learn how to cool the house overnight, and trap the cool air in the morning. It won’t be the chilled dry air that you’re used to, and it works better in some houses than others.

Get a generator. If you’re going fully off-grid, you have other options too, like solar panels and windmills. But everyone should have as a minimum, a backup generator that’s able to keep food frozen and some LED lights on. Generators need fuel to run; keep 10-20 gallons of gasoline in storage and rotate through it to keep it fresh. For longer term power generation you should be investigating wood gasification.

Level 4: Entire grid goes offline

This is just Level 3 extended everywhere. “The grid” is not limited to electric power lines. If the power went out for an extended period, it would quickly lead to other grid failures, rippling outward as shortages and service outages. Could you handle the following?

  • No phone/cable (landline)
  • No city water
  • No sewer (possibly)
  • No gasoline/diesel
  • kerosene shortage
  • propane shortage
  • No piped natural gas
  • Grocery stores empty
  • Generators unavailable

How to live at Level 4:

Think ahead. Most of this is easy to prepare for, for a short time. Keep a supply of water, food, gasoline/diesel, propane, and of course a generator. Know if the sewer is pumped or gravity flow at your location.

Learn to eat food you cook yourself, from ingredients. Then stock up! Store what you eat, and eat what you store; if you don’t like to eat it now, you won’t magically like it better during an emergency. Beans, rice and other dry goods will taste a whole lot better if you’ve also got good seasonings for them.

Longer term, you’ll need to transition to an old fashioned lifestyle, growing your food, and providing for your own needs. Great-grandma did it, and she lived to a ripe old age… you can too. This will be easier in a rural setting.

Level 5: Civil Society goes offline

If Level 4 persists very long, people will become cold, hungry, and angry. Some of them will begin acting hostile. Consider the following:

  • Martial law breaks down
  • Widespread looting
  • Equipment theft (generators, vehicles)
  • Arson, vandalism
  • Heavily armed gangs
  • Forced “sharing” of supplies/food

How to live at Level 5:

This is the most difficult situation, and where most hard-core “preppers” are focused.

There are two main approaches. Passive defense, and Active defense.

Passive defense is just using common sense. If you have the foresight to plan your location, you want to be out of town, away from other people. Keep a low profile when stocking up, before the disaster strikes. Keep your generator as quiet as possible, and don’t light up your house like a Christmas tree at night. Store most of your supplies in an inaccessible hidden location, and only keep a few days worth in the house.

Active defense means a supply of guns, ammunition, and knowing how to use them. This gets certain people very excited… However, your best option is to always de-escalate the situation if possible. Try to stay friends with your neighbors, you will need their support. Make plans for what to defend, and what isn’t worth fighting for. Have clear military style leadership in place, so that guns aren’t going off randomly, and have a plan of action ready.

The opposite strategy is the more Christian one. Instead of turning people away at gunpoint, share what you have freely. Stock up provisions for yourself, and as much extra as you can for those who are in need and come to you for help. If you are in a position to make use of extra manpower in return for food and shelter, you may find yourself rebuilding a farming community by default. There will still be hostile people to contend with, but you now have a lot more people on your side that will aid your defense.

Another strategy is to make yourself valuable, by acquiring skills. The only thing that can’t be taken from you is knowledge. If you are the most skilled person in a unique situation, you will find yourself a valued member of the community, and there will be less need for hoarding and defense. Skills like blacksmithing, welding, foraging, hunting, and especially doctors, will be extremely useful and uncommon.