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Data Armageddon: A real possibility

Starting from the Aadhaar data safety issues to the recent Facebook data-theft news, laypeople like you and me are made to think that personal data is some sort of hidden wealth that we must fight until death to protect.

Even though most of us are technologically challenged, all of us are now forced by various stakeholders to get convinced that modern technologies have magical powers that can put together the information about name of our dog and soft drink that we like to work out who will we vote for; which, according to them is extremely dangerous for us.

With the debate about personal data and its theft taking the center-stage as if it is some sort of existential problem faced by humanity, something lot bigger and ominous is staying hidden away from public attention.

While busy fearing what if our data is stolen, we are forgetting the worst dimension of this problem, i.e. you and I are now reduced to a fickle figment of digital data. And that reality poses a very scary question.

What if the data that we have become is erased over night? What is the kind of morning that will dawn upon humanity the next day?

The most tangible aspect of such a catastrophe would be almost complete vanishing of most of our transactions of life, as they are now stored predominantly in digital form. Be it money in the bank, mutual fund deposits or even ownership of properties, a global deletion of data will take away systemic ratification of all the economic transactions we have done, rendering us helplessly empty-handed.

If you are someone who finds emotional transactions equally or more important, and are born after snail-mail died, you would be also left hopelessly lamenting the loss of all your selfies on the beach and love-messages full of false promises if digital data dies a sudden death.

Above are mundane outcomes of a universal data-damage, as even deeper problems in global system-operations will emerge that will take hundreds of years to recover from. Of all the crisis that we can imagine, nothing can lead to an instantaneous near-total collapse of our lives than an unanticipated global digital data-deletion.

Even if such an episode doesn’t result in disintegration of any other technology such as electrical power or transportation, a dark age of data-demise would be difficult to rise from without passing through a dangerous phase of a global chaos. I can’t think of a simpler way of incapacitating humanity today than destroying the digital data stored in various mediums across the world that has become core of our actual existence on this planet.

Our love for digital data is like a woman falling for a handsome Casanova with all possible vices, as if there is no tomorrow. Digital data is wonderful to have, as it makes life easy today; but, there is absolutely no doubt that it can be a cruel deserter because of its very nature.

However much we may like to ignore the reality, it is entirely possible for this most fickle form of information storage ever invented by humanity can easily get disrupted globally almost instantaneously in certain circumstances.

Digital data that we have offered our lives to can vanish overnight, and the reason behind it is its physical nature. All digital data is stored on magnetic mediums, and it is possible for a massive magnetic event to seriously damage digital data storage globally.

So, it will take one intense magnetic event – of solar, staller, Earthen, alien or even sci-fi like mad-scientist origin – to erase your current, savings and Facebook account, and all the money and travel photos therein. If it is a solar coronal mass ejection event, it will also take down power-grids across the world that we may repair after a lot of hard work, but digital data once lost, and even if parts of it may be recoverable, it will be a herculean, if not impossible task, to reinstate it to original levels.

This fickle nature of digital data and the global threat of it getting wiped out due to one of the many magnetic events possible in our volatile universe is not unknown to science.

Solar flares that were originally feared for their power to destroy electrical infrastructure of earth are now recognized as a threat to digital data storage too.

Unfortunately, the data age is upon us before we can really cover all the bases. With a mad rush for global digitization, our vulnerability in this dimension has increased exponentially almost overnight, while not much attention is given to mitigation of this almost inevitable disaster that can strike us one day.

As data-linked issues are now slowly emerging, and getting addressed as per public opinion regarding their importance, it is critical that this core issue of real data protection is also communicated to public, so it is given its due priority over pseudo-problems of data privacy that have captured public attention.

A global strategy requires to be put in place for a data Armageddon, as it is a very real possibility that can strike us any time without any warning. At this point, we are sitting digital ducks with no real systemic preparedness for this problem.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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