THE first sign that the world might be ending arrived at approximately 11.00 UK time on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Among the victims were those seeking the latest news on Joe Biden’s chances of leaving a Rooseveltian legacy, and folk who just wanted to buy a dinosaur-decorated lunchbox and a set of spanners.

Yes, the internet was down. Or rather parts of it were inaccessible. People trying to get on to CNN, Amazon, The Guardian, eBay, and other sites would have been hit with the dreaded message “service unavailable” or some such variation. Even the UK Government’s official website and the White House were affected.

The reason? A global internet outage, aka computers saying no. Inevitably, #cyberattack was soon trending on social media, and not everyone was joking.

The reality proved to be more mundane, less disaster movie. A problem had occurred at Fastly, a firm that runs a content delivery network (CDN) among other things.

CDNs operate like crowd management systems. Say you want to visit CNN’s website. Instead of everyone joining a single queue for the company’s servers, requests are redirected to server farms around the world. These host the same information, but because they are closer the data arrives faster, and the system, being leaner and more flexible, is less prone to overload and crashing. Simple, see?

Of course it is not. However, to put the matter at its most basic, large parts of the internet went down and no-one, outside of the company involved, initially knew what the heck was going on or how long it would last.

READ MORE: Martin Lewis issues warning on outage

Just for a while a sizeable number of people had a glimpse of a world without the internet. Zero connectivity. Nada on the net. Supposedly sophisticated humans switching their hubs off and on like so many demented chimps, looking to the skies, to “out there”, for answers. A glimpse of heaven, or hell? A nightmare, or a blessing?

First, a reality check. There is no chance of the clock being turned back and the internet vanishing from our lives. Forget it. Might as well wish for horse drawn carriages to replace cars (much more environmentally friendly and good for the roses to boot), or the return of lamp lighters to the streets.

Though it may not seem so if you have been anywhere near social media lately, the internet is in general A Good Thing. It has advanced our knowledge in countless spheres, made the delivery of services easier, boosted economic output, and even helped to topple dictators. Health, wealth, worship, relationships, sleep: no aspect of our lives has been left untouched.

While this week’s outage might have led to mild inconvenience for most, what would happen if it was more serious, say a hospital network going down, or air traffic control stalling? When would the back-up systems kick in? Are there back-up systems?

Unthinkable to imagine there would not be. But if this past year has taught us anything it is that the unimaginable can be closer than we think. Face masks and lockdowns and millions dead did not come from another planet. The danger turned out to be lurking just around the corner, a few streets or a flight away.

Given how badly prepared the world turned out to be for Covid-19, it is reasonable to wonder about the contingency plans in the event of a cyberattack, or some cataclysmic event that, through human or systems error, caused mass, prolonged internet outage. We all have a stake in finding out what those plans are.

Arriving with perfect timing yesterday was Ofcom’s annual report on the UK’s online habits. Last year, the plague year, we spent an average of three and a half hours on desktop computers, smartphones or tablets each day. I was surprised it was not more.

In any event, we were online for an hour longer than the Germans and French, and 30 minutes more than the Spanish. Online Nation 2021 also revealed the amount spent shopping on the web rose by almost 50%, to £113 billion.

READ MORE: BBC and Amazon among sites affected

For the sheer amount we use it, and to the extent modern life depends on it, everyone has a stake in finding out how much resilience is built into the internet. Or do we want to realise too late again that we did not prepare enough, or that we wasted time and money and effort readying for the wrong kind of disaster to come along?

The company behind this week’s outage said yesterday it had found out the cause of the problem. A single customer had changed the settings on their account, which in turn activated a bug in the software.

All that from just one user editing their settings. Fastly has apologised and will investigate why the bug was not picked up at an earlier stage.

As the company said, it acted quickly, and within 49 minutes 95% of its network was operating as normal. So some inconvenience caused for a relatively brief time. No harm done. Let us move on, nothing more to see here. There is a pandemic going on, don’t you know.

Yet it is worth pausing to wonder what might have happened had the problem been more serious. It should surely bother us, for example, that the BBC turned out to have an automatic back-up system, but needed an actual human to press the button and activate its set up.

It should also concern us that so much power is exercised by so few companies. Capitalism has worked its magic and streamlined the internet to make it faster and more accessible. At the same time, power has been concentrated in a few firms. They keep the system working and no-one cares much about who they are and how they do it, as long as it keeps ticking along. It is just one more aspect of modern life that has been contracted out.

But Fastly is not the first service provider to encounter problems. Even the mighty Google had a wobble last December. We should know more about what makes the internet work, and fail, if only to reassure ourselves that problems can be fixed quickly.

How ironic that something that has advanced the sum of human knowledge as much as the first printing press should have left us so incurious. In this instance ignorance is not bliss; it could be dangerous.