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ninja_man's avatar

How would society handle technological disaster?

Asked by ninja_man (1133points) September 16th, 2012

Watching the pilot of NBC’s new show, Revolution. How would our society handle it if electricity decided to just quit? Would it dissolve into chaos, going back to pre-industrial tech? Or would it merely revert to the last technology we had that didn’t rely on electricity (say, late-1800’s)? Or would something else happen?

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19 Answers

gasman's avatar

it would make far more sense for everyone to wait until power came back online, even if it meant building new generators and transmission lines, than to revert to older technology such as steam or animal power. Yes, chaos would ensue temporarily. It would depend a lot on the time frame & extent that other infrastructure is crippled as well.

On the positive side, nobody would be complaining about lack of jobs anymore.

PhiNotPi's avatar

One person I know has pointed out how the human body relies on the existence of electricity (nerve signals, chemical reactions, etc), so everyone would die.

If we were to ignore this effect, a modern society in which electricity stopped working would lead to immediate social collapse, probably a world war, and the immediate collapse of most of our infrastructure. We as a civilization no longer possess the things needed to survive in a world without electricity, in terms of agriculture, transportation, hygiene, etc.

elbanditoroso's avatar


We as society are incapable of growing our own food (individually), incapable of walking and using non mechanical transportation, and so on.

Even the gun buffs, all but a very few, are capable of making their own ammunition.

So without technology, transportation, mediums of exchange, etc., – 98% of the world population would be dead within one year.

YARNLADY's avatar

@elbanditoroso In my opinion, based on my own experience and knowledge, your statements are incorrect.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@YARNLADY – don’t leave me hanging. Please elucidate. Making broad statements without some sort of backup seems rather odd.

Perhaps you could tell us how it was the last time mankind lost all its technology, and how you survived then.

gasman's avatar

@ninja_man Could you please clarify the scenario: Are we imagining something like terrorists attacking the U.S. power grid? Or worldwide destruction of all electrical equipment?

Or is this a total sci-fi scenario ( à la The Day the Earth Stood Still) where all electrical activity somehow ceases everywhere at once, more or less magically? If the latter, does all electrical activity at every level (such as in our bodies, as pointed out earlier by @PhiNotPi) stop as well, effectively killing all living things? Then who cares…?

Or—let’s take it to extremes—does the electromagnetic interaction disappear altogether, including the charge on all protons and electrons, effectively ending the existence of all matter in the known universe? Don’t you hate hypotheticals!

YARNLADY's avatar

@elbanditoroso For one thing, a large percentage of the people in the world live on the most meager of technology as it is. They have no running water, no electricity and they produce all of their own food. It was not hurt them at all.

For another thing, most everyone I know knows how to walk and does so every single day. Many members of my family do not own a car and do not know how to drive.

Many of us already grow a lot of our own food or use Farmer’s Markets to buy direct from the

When the power grid shut down in San Diego a couple of years back, all the airports closed, all the traffic lights stopped working, and every store lost power, but people just made do. Motels checked people in, and those people walked up to their room, since the elevators weren’t working. Stores sold food and such with very little trouble. If it had lasted longer, I’m sure people would have made long term adjustments.

When New York and all the Eastern seaboard lost power, people walked home from Manhattan to the Bronx, and made do.

I lived much of my early life on a farm, and I have hunted and skinned and eaten deer and duck. I’m pretty sure I could do it again. I also know how to fish, clean fish and cook over a campfire.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@YARNLADY – your examples (San Diego, NYC) are probably accurate for 2–3 days, even a week at a time.

THat’s why I wrote “a year”. The people in NYC who walked over the bridge did so once. But the next day (in the OP’s hypothetical) there would be no jobs because there would be no electricity. What would they do to earn a salary? How would they grow food in Brooklyn? and so on.

Sure survival is easy for a couple of days. A year? Forget it.

YARNLADY's avatar

I was also thinking about a time in the distant past, when the Great Depression occurred. The town my family lived in barely noticed, other than the news. There were many small family farms and the farm people shared what they had with the town people, and everyone continued life as they had before. They even used the same currency/money they had before, and it eventually came back.

Electricity was common, but by no means prevalent at that time.

When cities see the need, they eliminate many of the buildings and go back to farming – look at present day Detroit for an example. Brooklyn is experimenting with rooftop farming

People would be motivated to put more effort into harnessing the power of the sun to convert to mechanical power in place of electric, which is already possible – and of course all those out of work people would find jobs doing what machines used to do.

I personally would not last long, because my health is currently dependent on a variety of medications that will most likely not be available. However, I am confident that my children and grandchildren would have no problem adjusting.

Electricity was brought into public use less than two generations ago, my grandparents time. We are not that far removed from the pre-electric times to have forgotten how to live. I lived in a commune for several years in the 1960’s with no electricity or running water. We used a well. a fireplace and a wood stove.

As for doomsday predictions (violence and such) I maintain that would be very short lived.

zenvelo's avatar

There are parts of the US that have experienced weeks long outages because of storms, and it is inconvenient but people make do. In this outage are cars working? Gasoline can be pumped by hand, windmills can be built locally, bicycles can go long distances.

People are pretty adaptable. People would start reading instead of watching TV.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@zenvelo – if there is no electricity, how will they recharge their Kindles and their Nooks? remember, the hypothetical is about loss of all technology. not some and not temporary.

Sure, real paper books will survive, but how many people have them any more?

YARNLADY's avatar

@elbanditoroso If you’ve been around Fluther very long, you are probably aware that many Jellies have 100’ and in my case 1,000’s of books, as do libraries in every town, every school in every town, warehouses all over the country…..

You surely are aware of all this. What is your game here – you are sounding very Trollish.

YARNLADY's avatar

P. S. I have books on how to recognize edible plants, how to make furniture and houses out of trees, plants and rocks, how to make clothing out of plants and animals, and so on. I can make blankets out of string.

zenvelo's avatar

@elbanditoroso I have about five hundred books of fiction in my apartment, from young adult fiction to a lot of classics. I have nook and a kindle, both received at conventions. Hardly ever use them.

I know how to write a letter and put a stamp on the envelope, too.

The OP is not about a permanent loss of technology. Maybe if we lost electricity for a year, we’d be a bit more judicious in its use.

jerv's avatar

Much of the world survives just fine without electricity. Hell, one of my neighbors back in NH had no electricity; wood for heating and cooking, a bucket and a pair of feet to get water, etcetera. Personally, being from New England, I’m used to losing power, sometimes for days at a time. I know how to make fire.

Of course, the younger and/or lazier amongst us would perish because they can’t even figure out how to live when wifi coverage gets spotty. I think it would thin the herd.

LostInParadise's avatar

In the short term, it would be disastrous. The economies of industrial nations have become entirely dependent on inexpensive production of electricity. In the long haul, people would eventually adjust. There might even be some advantages. The additional manual labor would make us healthier. There would be fewer carbon emissions. Global warming would eventually reverse. Without computers and cars, people would be less isolated. You would know who your neighbor was.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@YARNLADY – first off, I assure you I am not a troll. But the whole idea of survivability is something that I have read a fair amount on. I’m not trying to pick arguments; what I am going is trying to make the a couple of points:

1) while you may own books, and while you may know how to slaughter pigs and catch fish, there are billions of people who do not. So you may survive without technology, but most people will simply be unable to, and will die of starvation. The world is too interconnected and (transportation, communication, etc.) and too interdependent to think that all of a sudden the entire infrastructure that has been built since 1840 can be ripped out and people can compensate.

2) Being realistic is far better than being pollyanna-ish.

YARNLADY's avatar

@elbanditoroso I have to agree to one point, a large number of people would die off, but in my own opinion, it wouldn’t be the vast majority.

Keep in mind that there are already 20,000 men, women and children who starve to death EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR, so we don’t need a technology disaster to kill people.

ragingloli's avatar

It would not.

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