Even those living under the proverbial rock knew about the massive Facebook outage last week. For almost 6 hours last Monday, the entire world(!) was without their daily drip of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp which, for a large portion of the online world is the entirety of social media that matters. And the week before that, we lived through several, multi-day VOIP phone outages as two other foundational internet platforms, VOIP.ms and Bandwidth.com fought off ransomware attacks that crippled their services (and all of their customer’s services) for the better part of a week.
Why does the internet keep breaking?
This may come as a surprise to you, but if you think about it (or you’ve been working with computers as long as I have), you will realize that technology is only as reliable as the people making it and, of course, using it. I will allow (and be able to provide plenty of anecdotes demonstrating) there are a plethora of examples of technology from days past that are lightyears ahead of their modern counterparts – I have a woodworking router that is likely older than I am, and it’s still a capable tool. So why do things made today seem to break more frequently? Some of it is likely nostalgic bias, but there are two other key factors that also tip the scales towards an increasingly fragile technology future: mass production and commodification of technology, and the internet.
While it’s most certainly to the benefit of everyone that computers and smartphones have become largely affordable, it’s definitely come at a cost in quality and durability, and there is a fairly wide consensus that manufacturers are building in obsolescence into their products and designs to enforce a vicious cycle of upgrades that guarantee a profit. Our consumption of technology devices is further reinforced by the internet-connected world where the transmission of information is at once solace, comfort, education, power and the lack of it has become a deadly disadvantage for all but a very small portion of the world’s population. And, of course, that connection to the internet is also double-edged blade that undermines security and sustainability as inexorably as water will work its way into any place it should not be.
If you look carefully (and perhaps don’t if you want to sleep tonight) you will see that almost every aspect of our modern life now relies on devices that themselves rely on a near-constant connection to something else (usually the internet) in order to function. And here’s a dirty little secret any technology veteran will gleefully share with you: the internet is built on some very old technology that has become nigh impossible to replace, and yes, it’s still easy to make a mistake that will take the world’s largest social media platform offline for hours. Imagine being tasked with repairing (or replacing!) a bridge that is heavily used. Shutting it down is not an option. So you have to try to do the work while people are driving over it. Failure is not an option, and yet, here we are: human to a fault – pun very much intended.
Image by Spencer Wing from Pixabay