Why Do We Panic When Our Favorite Sites Crash?
The Internet makes errors too, folks
Last week, Internet users were plagued by—and greatly panicked because of—outages on several of their favorite sites.
Just before noon on Monday, Google's email service Gmail, along with its browser Chrome and its file storage service Drive, went down for several minutes due to what the company only referred to as an "issue." Hours later, before anyone could fully recover, Facebook "made a change to [its] DNS infrastructure," causing its members to see an error message when trying to log in. And on Wednesday evening, after experiencing "slow loading and intermittent errors" during the day, popular blog-hosting platform Tumblr was taken down to "resolve a network issue."
Internet users took to the one of the few sites that was working properly—Twitter—to express their anxiety. And it looked a little something like this:
To some, these would be considered completely over-dramatic and unreasonable responses to something so temporary. But not to Tammy Chriest of Erie, Pa.
"I can't stand to be away from the Internet," Chriest said. "It is my lifeline to the outside world. I have a desktop, laptop and iPad so that I am never out-of-touch and when anything crashes I feel like I have lost my best friend. Even though nothing too important is being said on Twitter, I still have to know what it is that's being said. The Internet is, not even a habit but, an addiction that I cannot break—not even with a 12-step process."
And Chriest isn't alone. According to Cisco's third annual global Connected World Technology Report, 60 percent of the 18-to-30-year-olds surveyed compulsively check their smartphones for emails, texts or social media updates; two-thirds said they spend just as much (or more) time socializing with friends online than they do in person; and two out of five said they “would feel anxious, like part of me is missing” if they couldn’t use their smartphones to stay connected.
So what gives? Why the sheer panic when the web shows weakness?
Sure, once-reliable sites aren't running as they should, but Michael Knowles, a marketing consultant, believes it's us who make the first mistake of humanizing the Internet—and then holding it to an illogically high standard.
"The Internet is the new gasoline or bread; it's become one of the pillars holding up our society," Knowles said. "When the Internet or our favorite website is down, we actually assume that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world, not just our computers or a cable. The web takes on a personality; we anthropomorphize it, we regale it with outrage: 'How dare you be down when I needed you most.' Like the wizard behind the curtain controlling the strings of Oz, we have no idea where this stuff comes from, but are outraged when its fallibility is revealed."
Knowles admits he once caught his 13-year-old son "beating up his Sony laptop" when it prompted him for a disk that was neither supplied nor handy but, based on recent findings, an obsession with staying in-touch could start even younger.
According to a 2011 report by the Sesame Workshop and Joan Ganz Cooney Center, nearly 80 percent of American children under the age of 5 use the Internet on a weekly basis; and in 2008 the Workshop found that almost 90 percent of 5-to-9-year-olds spent at least an hour every day reading text messages. These statistics likely wouldn't shock Jycorri Robinson of Supreme Marketing.
In fact, kids are identified as being especially at risk for a disorder the American Psychiatric Association recently announced would now be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Used by psychiatrists nationwide, the DSM declares that a person with "Internet-use disorder" would experience “preoccupation” with the Internet, withdrawal symptoms when it is no longer available, and unsuccessful attempts to quit.
Still, some say the reason for the panic is more practical.
"When Gmail went down, it killed people's productivity," said Syed Balkhi, president of Awesome Motive. "Many small businesses did not receive emails that they were relying on. Communication was dropped between them and their clients. For businesses, when Facebook went down, it meant loss of sales. If you use Facebook advertisements, then you are losing the revenue for that day. It's utter chaos for some."
Though Cisco's report certainly shows an urgency to wanting to stay abreast—over a third of their respondents admitted to using their smartphone in the bathroom; 3 out of 4 did in bed; and 46 percent said they check texts, emails or social media during meals with friends or family—Sterling Morris, co-founder of PoliticIt, still isn't sold that the matters are always so pressing.
"Today, the failure of a social network is tantamount to a thunderstorm ruining an outdoor gathering," said Morris. "But this panic over a temporary inconvenience is evidence that we might be too attached to being in-the-know."