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when the internet goes down, the world ends January 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Technology Trouble.
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We live in an increasingly-connected world. Our smartphones hit the internet so we can check our e-mail. The first thing we do in the morning is flip on the TV to check the news, weather, and traffic, and our cable, satellite, or DVR boxes probably use the internet to get data. Or we turn on our computers and skim our personalized homepages.

If the internet’s down at home, well, that’s a problem. But we can always go to work, right?

Right?

A 404 page in Internet Explorer.

A 404 page in Internet Explorer.

When the internet goes down at work, that’s a whole different story. You can’t check your e-mail. You can’t share documents. You can’t access shared workspaces. You can’t move files from here to there. You can’t update your Facebook without turning on your cell (and even then, you just say “Work internet is down and it sucks. Can’t do anything.”), and you can’t make it look like you’re working when you’re really not. Even the phones might go down if you use VOIP.

When the internet goes down at work, the world ends. No one does any work. Except, that is, for the IT guy, whose job it is to fix it. If it’s a billing issue, the IT guy has to get the accounting department involved. If you work for a big company, local IT and local accounting has to get national IT and national accounting on the phone — a nightmare if you’re on the east coast and your home office is on the west coast, or even just one time zone earlier.

And the worst part? By the time your IT guy’s figured out the problem, the internet has come back up of its own accord and everyone stops you him the hall to ask why the internet went down in the first place. But the IT guy doesn’t know, and if he does, do you really want to hear about packets and sockets and fiber-optic cables*? No, of course not; you just want some pithy IT Guy response so you can go back to your cubicle and laugh at the latest YouTube video Bill in Purchasing found while he was supposed to be working.

But there’s a good part for the employees on the ground. See, when the internet (or the network) goes down, it’s easy to just hole up somewhere and come back an hour or so later and just start working. No one really knows how much work comes out of any one person’s computer, so you can just say your work is late because the internet was down. Most managers (even those who run web departments or work at web-heavy businesses) will accept that excuse because they too took advantage of the outage to goof off, or make phone calls, or play Snake on their woefully-underutilized-but-amazingly-tricked-out smartphone that the company pays for while you yourself have to spend a significant chunk of your pay on a phone and the service to make it work just so you can answer e-mails from sales while you’re trying to play with your kid on a Tuesday night.

I think I’ve gotten off track here, but you get the idea. We hope for internet outages, but we hate internet outages. We can’t get any work done, but we can’t get any goofing-off done either. We can lie to our bosses, but our bosses can lie right back to us. It’s a double-edged sword.

* As you can see, I don’t actually know much about internet architecture.

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