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When Google is Down: Our Inescapable Reliance on the Internet

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

By Kristin Merrilees

Image via Google Search

A few weeks ago, the internet equivalent of a natural disaster occurred: Google went down. According to Jon Porter in The Verge, “Multiple Google services and websites including YouTube, Gmail, Google Assistant, and Google Docs were down for around an hour on [the morning of December 14th] after being hit with a widespread outage”. Despite the shortage only lasting for about an hour, it seemed that there were massive consequences for the internet world.

People quickly flood to Twitter to ring the alarm bells, sharing both updates and memes regarding the shortage. Because this happened on a Monday morning, it obviously disrupted the beginning of the work and school week, for many, a very critical one as the last before winter break. Those of us trying to use Google for every day or entertainment purposes didn’t have it much better, however. I remember trying to go on YouTube as I didn’t have class until later in the day, but to my disappointment, seeing that it wasn’t working. I wasn’t the only one with this issue, as many others shared disappointment regarding YouTube not working on TikTok.

This wasn’t the first, nor the last time, that a major internet application has had an outage. YouTube was down for many on November 11th. Back in July, a glitch that had caused videos to be shown without likes or views caused many to think the app was getting shut down, in light of remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - and the internet went into a frenzy. In August, Zoom experienced a partial outage, disrupting the school day for many. Just a few days ago, on January 4th, the first workday of the new year, Slack, a critical workplace communication tool for many, went down - and, quite predictably, people took to Twitter to react.

The internet’s reactions when a website or application goes down are quite notable. In theory, this shouldn’t be that big of a deal - after all, the outages are almost always fixed that same day, frequently within even a few hours. But for a world so extremely connected to technology, these outages can feel like an impending apocalypse.

We’ve gotten to the point where we are online so frequently that we have almost forgotten what it’s like to live without the internet - even if it’s just for a short time. So when some tool or service that we rely on stops working, we don’t know what to do. And because we are also so busy, one missed meeting or disruption to our ability to search the internet will almost inevitably disrupt our entire days, even weeks.

In the past, disruptions to our working, learning, and even communicating would only really happen because of natural circumstances - the snow day being a classic example. Now, with the whole world having shifted online - a shift most notable because of the pandemic, although it has been in the works for a while - a Zoom or Slack outage just may be the new “snow day.”

Written by writer Kristin Merrilees

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