Connectivity Panics: In the Cloud and on the Ground

The news media seem to be frothing at the news that the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, the single most vital ground transportation link in the Bay Area and a LANDMARK bridge, will be closed today. (There is a major crack in the bridge, requiring an immediate repair; the bridge was closed over the holiday weekend while a new section of bridge was moved into place on the East Bay side.)  It’s going to be closed on a weekday.  A commute day.  OMG!  What will those 280,000 vehicles do?

This is analog connectivity panic meeting digital connectivity panic. Gmail went down for a while the other day, and the gmail-using world just about lost it. Facebook went down recently.  News of Michael Jackson’s death crushed Twitter.  iPhone users are overwhelming the AT&T network.

At Slate.com, Farhad Manjoo pleads for calm.  The cloud works unbelievably well so much of the time that we should be accepting of the occasional failure.  We might say the same thing for the Bay Bridge.  A few of us remember that the bridge was closed for a whole month back in 1989, after the Loma Prieta earthquake.   There was anticipatory panic then, too, but people dealt.  The world did not end.  I even managed to get from Oakland to San Francisco and back one weekend in order to have major surgery. But can you imagine gmail, Twitter, or Facebook being down for an entire month?  If the Department of Redundancy Department has been making itself available in the cloud, users don’t seem to know it; there seems to be something distinctly digital about dependence on contemporary tools.

Farhad strikes me as Kevin Bacon at the end of a modern-day Animal House, helplessly screaming “All is well! Remain calm!” while chaos reigns.   People will panic.  They have panicked.

And in the commotion, some equivalent of the future Senator John Blutarsky will make off with Mandy, and few people will notice.

Bluto taught us many things, not all of them virtuous, but here is one to remember:  These moments of disconnection are marvelous windows on opportunism, adaptation, and innovation.  We shouldn’t panic, even though we will.  Nor should we simply remain calm and wait for the storms to pass, though most people will be forced to do that, too.  I hope, however, that someone else is watching and learning.  What to people do?  How do they behave?  What is the collective response?  The desire for connectivity doesn’t stop just because the device stops working.  I hope, in other words, that our friends at Google, Twitter, Facebook, the California Department of Transportation, and elsewhere are studying and learning from these experiences.  There is no eliminating them, and there may even be no eliminating the panic.  We can make the power to deal more apparent.

Bonus video:  One Degree of Kevin Bacon

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