On Tuesday, Stephen Colbert spent a segment on the Late Show talking about recent reports that Russian ships and submarines have been congregating near underwater Internet cables.
The fear is that the Russians might sever the fiber-optic cables at a strategic time to greatly inhibit worldwide Internet connectivity. "It would be the biggest disruption to your internet service since your upstairs neighbor put a password on his WiFi," Colbert said. Other non–nation state threats to the cables include natural disasters and sharks.
The host talked about the return of Cold War–era anxieties, something the New York Times also raised when it noted last week that "[t]he issue goes beyond old worries during the Cold War that the Russians would tap into the cables."
But Colbert also used the news story as an opportunity to teach people about the infrastructure of the Internet. "First of all—what is the Internet doing underwater?" he joked. "Last time I checked I’m not supposed to get my computer wet. ... What happened to the cloud? I was told there was a cloud." It may sound silly, but it's not unimportant to remind people that the Internet isn't quite the omnipresent spirit entity it appears to be. Connectivity exists because of very real physical infrastructure.
So to prepare for a possible digital blackout, Colbert packed an "Internet Outage Go-Bag," which included a photo of a baby, printouts of local restaurant recommendations and movie times, and a thick stack of racist tweets. Plus, "To replace YouTube you, of course, are going to want to get a cat. Preferably one dressed in a tuxedo."
Colbert is ready—are you?