Were you a member of the panicked masses who could not handle today’s GMail problems? I certainly was. I spent hours obsessively refreshing the GMail site, refusing to believe that GMail–my GMail–wasn’t working.
Now that GMail is back online, I’m no longer sitting in a cold sweat. See, I’m convinced that if GMail had stopped working for, say, one day, I would miss a career-altering email, or perhaps some important family news, and become obsolete. The fear is irrational, but almost inevitable when you’re so used to having something like GMail functioning properly all the time.
GMail is just technology. So is Google. These are tools that we humans use. But we have a tendency to interpret them as extensions of ourselves. These silent, helpful, reliable mental partners become as automatic as breathing or blinking.
Last month, Google marked every webpage as spam. Being the responsive company that it is, Google soon fixed the problem. But for a short time, people were truly disoriented. Google’s malfunction led to emotional turmoil that temporarily froze people. We just don’t know what to do when our silent mental partner goes down.
We’re so reliant on Google, and Google alone, that we freeze right along with it. As humans, we are independent of it and able to function without it–for short periods of time. But we’re not trained to understand that. A Google catastrophe is a world catastrophe.
It follows that:
a) Humans are emotionally dependent on Google
b) When Google freezes, humans freeze–and that is a single-point catastrophe
c) We are not familiar with the courses of action we can take when Google does go down
d) Google has a direct effect on our well-being
When I worked at Google, there was a wonderful, satirical world domination plan sketched out on a whiteboard in one of the buildings. The idea was that Google would take over every aspect of daily life with products like Google Cola, Google gas stations, Google countries, etc.
Ironically, I think that Google has managed to rule the world, just not in the way the whiteboard illustrated. GMail’s problems today prove it.