Josh Freed: Rogers outage dials up memories of phone booths, answering machines | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #ransomware

It was a surprising moment of vulnerability, when we realized how reliant we’ve become on our e-world.

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There are big potholes on the internet highway, as millions of us discovered last week when the electronic road to the outside world was closed for construction.

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For Rogers and Fido users, it shut down our phones, mobile internet, texts and debit cards, not to mention our ability to call 911, do online betting and buy pot easily online.

The only good news was we couldn’t pay our Fido and Rogers bills on Interac that day.

For many, the outage was a trip down memory lane to a time when insta-communications were rare — unless we were using landline corded phones that tethered us to our desks like goats.

Like others that day, I woke up to find my phone wasn’t working, while my texts bounced back. But I have separate Vidéotron internet, so at least I could see why nothing else was working.

My first thought was: Is this a Russian hack attack? But it seemed unlikely Russia would only target Canada in their great communications assault on the western world.

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Unless, of course, it was a practice session for the Yanks?

Like any detective, I always ask “who gains?” — and there were two obvious winners. One was Bell, which had its best PR day in years.

The other was Starbucks, which was swamped by internet-hungry customers. Hmm … did they create the outage to increase chai latte sales?

My real problems began when I left the house to meet some out-of-town visitors. I was supposed to find an open terrasse, then let them know where and when to meet. But once I found one, I couldn’t phone or email them, so I was flummoxed.

It reminded me of olden times, in the 1980s, when the only way to contact people after you’d all left home was to find a phone booth, then leave a message on their clunky answering machine, saying you were 15 minutes late to the bar where you were meeting.

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Then they’d call their answering machine, hear your message and phone your machine to say: “Got your message, but we’re stuck in traffic so we won’t be there for 25 more minutes.”

Then you’d listen to your machine’s message and call theirs to say the bar was closed, so you’d better meet somewhere else. The next 60 minutes was spent in more back-and-forth messages until everyone gave up and went home.

Yet we considered this a miracle of modern communication.

Today there are pretty much no more phone booths, so I wandered from restaurant to restaurant pleading like an internet beggar, until finally I found one that didn’t use Rogers Wi-Fi.

Fortunately it’s summer, so most of us got through the “crisis” fine, unlike winter when shutting down communications would be far more isolating.

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But the breakdown hit age groups in different ways. For those over 50, it was nothing compared to the great power blackouts and ice storms of the past that left us without electricity, heat and light.

But for many 20- and 30-somethings, this outage was more traumatic — their first time ever without instant e-communication. As one millennial described it to me:

“The first amazing thing was when I woke up and checked the morning weather and there was just … nothingness. I had to put my head out my third-floor apartment window to look at the clouds and forecast the weather. Ever weird!

“I use Rogers for everything, so I had no phone, internet, texts or TV. Instead of my usual 50 work emails, I had zero. I couldn’t even get the news and I’ve never owned a radio, so I was completely cut off from the outside world.”

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There was no one on his street, so he started getting slightly paranoid.

“It felt dystopian,” he said. “Was it just me cut off, or the whole world? Were all our political leaders killed? Was this the end of the world people keep talking about — for all I knew it was an alien invasion.”

Finally, he went outside and saw a bus with some people on it, so he was relieved.

“But for the long ride downtown I couldn’t do crosswords on my phone, read the news, make calls or even listen to music on my headphones. I had nothing to do except be alone with my thoughts, and I’m not used to that.

“But eventually I saw an open Starbucks, so I got off the bus to try their internet and that was the first time I knew — the world was still OK.”

For people of any age, it was a surprising moment of vulnerability, when we realized how reliant we’ve become on our e-world.

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Now that it’s over, the big question is how to protect ourselves from similar future events. There are three choices:

1) Don’t have your internet and phone with the same provider.
2) Get a landline again, as long as others you know do too, so you’ll have someone to phone.
3) Invest heavily in carrier pigeons.

In fact, I’m going out now to feed my pigeons.

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