Uneasiness of Unconnectedness

We have reached the point where it is unsettling to lose connection to the Internet. It is like the teenage version of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out; But at a more primal level. FOBU – Fear of Being Unconnected. The loss of connectedness to others and the inability to instantly access information is an unfamiliar mental stumbling block that results in an uncomfortable feeling of worry.

We are experiencing a prolonged Internet outage at my workplace. I can do work without the Internet but losing connection to all cloud-based services and network communications is a huge blow to productivity. And working inside the farthest reaches of a concrete block building renders a cellular-connected device no more than a digital photo frame. The downtime has given me a moment to pause and consider our connection to the connection.

This is more of an indictment of modern police investigations. In the past, policing existed completely outside of modern technology, except maybe the automobile and hi-band frequency radio. A police detective would be notified of a crime and then physically go out into the community to learn more information. This involved actual face-to-face conversations with community members. Information databases were paper-based, or a stand-alone computer not connected to any other sources. Investigators were required to visit peoples at their homes, their businesses, their schools, or places of entertainment. Research was done by going to the library or courthouse. Court proceedings were done in a physical courtroom.

The Internet and modern communication tools have created a world where detectives can do most of their work from a desk. Most people can be reached instantly through a cell phone and the story of their lives can be found somewhere online. Government databases and court records are immediately accessible, as are news and reference sources. Google maps and photo sharing sites give a complete view of homes, businesses, neighborhoods, and highways. OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) and Social Media searching skills have become more valuable than interviewing and interrogation talent. Meetings to collaborate on investigations and share information are conducted through video conferencing. Search warrants are sworn to through video communication and served on businesses through email.

This started before the Covid-19 crisis, but now police leadership encourages investigators, and in some cases mandates them, to conduct all work from within the office.

After the initial examination of the physical crime scene, modern criminal investigations have become largely an inside sport.

The investigator’s workflow is now largely reliant on the Internet. Google is where every investigation starts. Communication is through email and instant messaging apps like Microsoft Office 365, Slack, and Signal. Internal phones are powered by Voice Over Internet Protocol. Record management systems are cloud-based to be easily synced between a desktop computer and the mobile terminals in patrol vehicles. Meetings are conducted through Zoom and Teams. Court orders are filed with the courts through email and sworn to through video chat services. Even court hearings are conducted through video-based applications such as WebEx and Windstream.

The tools needed to do the job are dependent on a reliable, and high-speed, connection to the Internet. A loss of connection means a loss of productivity. Maybe that’s what causes discomfort when we lose access to the web? Maybe I’m just feeling the loss of productivity. The feeling of being ineffective.

But then again, maybe it’s just because I can’t get to Youtube.