In today’s modern society, it’s difficult to imagine life without the Internet, especially as far as banking and financial operations are concerned. Have you ever thought about what a day, or even a few hours, deprived of access to the world wide web would look like? How would you send and receive money without WIFI or data? How would banks and ATMs, who rely on secure internet connections to execute transactions and dispense cash, function?
The simple answer would be, with great difficulty - but only if you traded in fiat currencies.
If, for example, you favoured a decentralised digital currency like Bitcoin, you might not even need the internet to access your funds.
Why? Because you could use the earth's radio waves instead.
It may sound futuristic, it may even sound incomprehensible, but if you want to learn how to access your money in the event of a connectivity malfunction, catastrophe or sabotage, we suggest you read on.
An age ruled by the internet
In 1995, less than 1% of the world’s citizens were online. 25 years later and nearly half of the human population is connected. In an age where there are over 70,000 Google searches every second, there’s no doubt over how dependent people are on the internet.
Its impact is truly global, affecting societies across the planet politically, economically and socially. From creating large success stories, such as Facebook or Google, to liberating citizens from oppressive governments, as in the Arab Spring uprising of 2011, there are a myriad of ways in which the internet can be utilised, for matters big or small.
Students rely on the web to access information they can learn from, employees need the internet to complete our work, reply to emails and be productive, whilst businesses, organisations and governments need it to operate, communicate and advance.
Whether we like it or not, the internet has evolved into one of the most important elements of our day to day life. But there’s one specific area in which it is paramount: banking.
People rely on the internet more than ever for banking purposes, such as for checking accounts, sending money to peers, paying for bills, purchasing phone credit, or acquiring goods and services. Financial institutions are largely dependent on it to operate credit card networks, execute debit orders from customers, and to stay connected with their own worldwide branches. ATMs need the internet to function, and smartphone apps need it to link users to their accounts. In such an interconnected world, it’s hard to think of an analog way of the entire system operating.
When the lights go out: so what happens if the Internet stops working temporarily?
A communication breakdown would be inevitable, as would rising levels of fear amongst those disconnected from the very thing they have come to so heavily rely on. You’d be left stranded with only the money in your wallet, but what if - as is reasonable to expect from today’s cashless society - you’ve got nothing? What happens next?
Well, the outcome of this modern-age disaster depends entirely on whether or not you’ve got some bitcoin to your name. Because if you do, you’ve got the upper hand on your fellow fiat folk.
Can Bitcoin be independent of the internet?
When Nick Szabo took to the stage at the Scaling Bitcoin conference a couple of years ago in San Francisco and started talking about the possibility of utilising weak signal radio communications to send BTC, the crypto community were enthused. But, at that point, it was just an idea, and nothing had been proved. Yet.
Fast forward two years later, and CoinKite founder Rodolfo Novak is sending a BTC payment to Bloomberg columnist Elaine Ou over 2500 miles away, using only the earth’s radio waves.
In this first-of-its-kind transaction, actual money was transferred from Canada to America in about 5 minutes, with Novak documenting the entire process via Twitter. It means there is now real room to think that Bitcoin could operate without the internet, not only liberating citizens from the hassle of relying on governments and banks, but also from their dependency on WIFI or 4G access.
And whilst the idea of using nature’s ionosphere to send your hard-earned cash may sound like the plot to a space-themed Hollywood (horror) movie, it could quite literally be the reality of tomorrow after Novak’s attempt proved its viability.
So why would it be useful?
Granted, in a world so connected, going through the hassle of using radio waves to transfer your money isn’t the most logical way to make payments. And right now, it’s neither an accessible nor scalable way to send BTC, with Ou admitting herself that the internet was required to set up the transaction between her and Novak.
But there may come a time when it becomes the only way; when denial-of-service or router attacks identify vulnerabilities in our systems, when natural (or extra-terrestrial) disasters cut off connections, or when dictatorships censor our access to the web, or cut it off completely.
It is in those times that the implications of Novak and Ou’s radio transaction are colossal, for its success on a larger scale could give the Bitcoin network a level of resilience unbeknown to any other currency in the world.