It was a glitch heard around the world. At around 5 pm (IST) on Monday, people across the globe found they were unable to use the tools that they have come to rely on, for work, entertainment, communication and leisure. Some of Google’s premier services, including YouTube, Hangouts, Google Drive, Gmail and Calendar ceased to function. Google has said that this was an “internal storage quota issue” and that the company would ensure that “this problem cannot recur in the future”.
Even before the pandemic, most human beings were well on their way to becoming cyborgs — minds and bodies that are increasingly in a symbiotic relationship with machines. But in 2020, the outsourcing of our economic and social life to the algorithms of a few companies has been given an unprecedented impetus. In a year of lockdowns, isolation, misinformation and fear, the internet — increasingly dominated by a few big players — has become the only way to work and socialise. And in under an hour on a mundane Monday, the scale of this dependence became clear. Without Hangouts, meetings were halted; without Gmail, no work was exchanged and thousands, if not millions, of Instagram posts highlighting lockdown culinary skills were rendered impossible because millennials couldn’t look up the recipes on YouTube.
There is, of course, no going back; no surgery to make cyborgs Luddites. The hour of darkness will be forgotten until the next glitch. The anxieties around tech-dependence will be drowned in a sea of cat videos and babies playing with puppies, available on an infinite scroll. Perhaps, the tech oligopoly really is too big to fail: On Monday, in their panic at losing their connection to the world and in an act of supreme irony, panicked netizens were Googling what’s wrong.