We all hate earthquakes, don’t we?

When I was a snot-nosed brat who didn’t know better, I loved them and hoped they happened often because it was so cool to be in the middle of a fantastic geological disaster. It was like being in a movie!

I’m old enough to remember watching the 1974 disaster epic Earthquake (starring Charlton Heston, written by Mario Puzo, music by John Williams, and cheesy as all hell) in the Remar Theater in Cubao and loving it because it was shown with something called Sensurround, which was essentially a dozen big-ass subwoofers placed face-down on the theater floor and turned up loud during the noisy parts of the movie. Man, that was cool. I watched the movie over and over and over.

Of course today, as a snot-nosed adult, I understand the death, destruction and misery earthquakes come with. We all can’t have a Charlton Heston to save us every time we get all shook up. The tsunamis in our region a couple of Christmases ago caused by an underwater quake certainly wasn’t a cool movie moment at all.

But aside from destroyed cities and tsunamis, earthquakes in the 21st century have other, more subtle impacts on our lives.

Take the Taiwan quake last Dec. 26 (yes, Dec. 26 seems to be Earthquake Day for Asia – it’s the exact anniversary of the tsunami disaster a year before). At least the physical damage was minimal – but the anguish it’s been causing for weeks now is unprecedented – internet connections have been disrupted for the entire region, and the repercussions are major. Collateral damage indeed.

The submerged fiber-optic cables that run through the area have been affected, and virtual sections of the internet superhighway (which uses Taiwan as a major interchange) are down. Now what’s a few cables, you ask?

Make a circle with your thumb and forefinger. A fiber-optic cable the width of that circle can service the internet needs of a small country. Deep in the seas off Taiwan, imagine hundreds of them floating above the mud of the ocean floor and held in place by pontoon wires. Inside the fibers, light pulses flit by, carrying pictures of Britney Spears without underwear, email from your high-school alumni e-group, orders from Amazon, purloined MP3 tracks and the flotsam and jetsam of internet life in Asia.

Now apply earthquake. The pontoon wires snap, rocks and debris fall on them from undersea mountain ranges, cables break, and fiber-optic elements are strewn across the deep like vermicelli. Our beloved internet pipeline is just so much sotanghon floating in the silt.

No tsunami, but I can’t friggin’ surf. My 5Mbs connection at home suddenly becomes no better than a 28.8 dial-up. Sites don’t load, mail is inaccessible, torrents crawl, blogs go unupdated.

In my office in Makati, chaos reigns. We can’t get or send critical business email, can’t FTP feeds from abroad, can’t access reference sites. We are suddenly forced to hand-deliver multi-gig magazine layout files to our printer in Laguna instead of just zapping them over.

It’s been like that for weeks, all over. And I understand it’ll take weeks to get things back to normal. Grumble.

We live in a house of cards, and one errant nudge sends it all crashing down.

It grates on me good that we built such an elaborate system based on flimsy and unstable foundations. Maybe we can devote more resources to strengthening the frames, buttressing the walls, shoring up the foundations and ensuring that the home where we live and we’ve grown so dependent on isn’t so fragile. Instead of acquiring video sites for billions, maybe the big players can use the money to develop better ways of distributing internet service or something.

Sigh. Don’t really know where I’m going with this. Just ranting out of frustration. Kainis.

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