In case you missed the event earlier this week, the world stopped for nearly six hours.

On Tuesday, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went offline — along with their perceived invincibility and our self-assumptive inability to live without them.

The Earth’s rotation did not pause, nor did the sun set on the wrong horizon. Nor did the markets crash or birds fall from the sky. For many, instead, there was a collective shrug of “so what?”

The $930 billion market-valued company was dead in the water as users stared at useless screens for hours. People poked their screens, texted friends and asked co-workers if they had the same problem. Suddenly, great darkness came across the overlord of social media’s digital kingdom.

Facebook then gave the world a clear-as-mud explanation.

The company pointed to “configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers,” blocking their ability to communicate and setting off a cascade of network failures.

Yep, just what most people thought. Not really.

In the end, people discovered one of the most trusted extensions of their personal life was truly vulnerable.

Some even likened the shutdown to a “the emperor has no clothing” moment. A spell, for many, was broken.

Not that the tens of millions of dollars of revenue lost during the outage made a dent in the cash-rich company’s bank account. But the hit to its image proved influential. Investors, people with their money on Facebook, sent the stock downward. The event, compounded with recent whistleblower reports about internal Facebook practices and research related to children, turned the pot of circumstances to a boil.

Granted, everyone loves to hate Facebook. Advertisers grumble there’s no alternative to Facebook’s platforms and reach. Scientists point to research supporting the negative psychological impact on users. And others point to a behemoth playing a de-facto gatekeeper of information and ideas.

Not too much love going around for Facebook these days.

But as much as we love to hate Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp, we have only ourselves to blame. We willingly handed ourselves — and our lives — to Facebook. An old saying goes, “If you are not paying for a product or service, you are most likely the product.”

In the brief interlude provided by a technical glitch few can comprehend, the world rolled back decades to a time when people looked outward.

“It was so nice at lunch today to see people talking with each other instead of numbly staring down at their phones while eating,” said a friend.

I know this is purely anecdotal, but I’m sure there’s a broader truth worldwide. People, in the absence of a distraction, had to take their lives back. And from what it appears, the world did not come crashing to an end.

The question becomes, what is the takeaway? Will we all share this collective experience of awareness or slip quietly back into the make-believe of a digital oasis’ promise of a perfect and curated world?

Leonard Woolsey: 409-683-5207;


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