It's an interesting question.

What if you woke up tomorrow and everyone else was gone?

Sounds okay so far, right?  I mean, you just go to a supermarket once a week for food, walk around naked, and basically travel the globe visiting stuff until you die of boredom.

But how long would the supermarkets last before all the food spoiled, forcing you to go and hunt?

How long would it be before the power plant broke and you lost electricity?

How long would it be before you lost running water?

How long would it be before the Internet went offline?

How long would it be before the gas station stopped pumping gas, forcing you to walk (or at best, bike) everywhere?

How long would it be before the heat shut off in your house?
 

How long would it be before it all broke?  How much use is a computer without electricity, a car without gas, a house without heat in the winter?  Are you any better off than you'd be out in the wild?

This question is addressed quite clearly in The Stand, by Stephen King. It thoroughly examines the society and environment formed by a post-apocalyptic society, in this case, one visited by a great plague. There is no holocaust: all the people are dead. All our toys are fine.

But the question asked is, "How long would utilities last if everyone disappeared tomorrow morning?" Not, "What would society be like. Well, I'd have to hazard a guess at a few days, maybe. If everyone disappeared simultaneously, stoves would be left on, electric blankets left on, roasts left in the oven, jacuzzi's would overflow, spraying water everywhere, because the weight of the person holding down the water in it would be gone.

It would be havoc. Towns would burn. If everyone vanished, the questions stated above in RimRod's writeup would be entirely irrelevant. The question should be asked, "How long would it take our automation, which we foolishly believe would run on, to fail without our presence?"

But we'd be all gone, so it wouldn't matter anyway.

This reminds me of one of the stories in Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: "There Will Come Soft Rains". This is the most haunting of the stories in that book, in my opinion.

At the outskirts of city recently destroyed by nuclear war, there is a house. On the side of the house are the flash-burned figures of a family, mere shadows imprinted on a wall after the ravages of nuclear apocalypse. Inside the house, however, all of the little electronic devices that worked within it are whirring away, attempting to keep it running. Quickly, their systems break down. Reading it in seventh grade, this story changed my life. I had never read anything so beautiful in its simplicity of language and creative plot. This story made me want to write.

Although The Martian Chronicles do not even pretend to be scientifically accurate, I think that "There Will Come Soft Rains" offers some vital insight into the question above. Read it. I mean it, read it now.

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