An outage sparked an outrage; I did digital detox


When WhatsApp and Facebook went under a few days ago, I realised what I’d always suspected: Life can be so much better without them


Sushmita Bose

Published: Fri 8 Oct 2021, 11:12 PM

Whenever I hear the word ‘outage’, I think of power cuts, of the electrical kind, when your world, literally, plunges into darkness. A few days ago, the word ‘outage’ was doing the rounds for an entirely different reason. Poster boy Mark Zuckerberg’s products portfolio, comprising the three most popular amigos of the app worlds — WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram — suffered a collapse.

And there was darkness in our virtual worlds thereafter.

As usual, by the time I realised there was something wrong, it had moved from breaking news to viral news. A friend called from India to convey a message; he tried sending it on WhatsApp, but “my WA messages are not going through, must be my damn phone”. I was making dinner, so I muttered “oh-o”, and went back to the frying pan after making a mental note of what he said.

Post-dinner, I checked my phone WhatsApp; whenever I do that, it’s usually with a sinking heart. The cluster shows 37 or 74 unread messages — depending on whether it’s been one hour or two hours that I’ve given it short shrift — and I have to grit my teeth in an effort to sift through them.

But this time, wonder of wonders, there was nothing. I had been away from this annoying app for at least an hour and a half, and there wasn’t a single message to show for it (no sign of my friend’s message either).

My immediate concern was that Wi-Fi was down, and that’s not good for my Netflix nocturnal binges. I switched on my laptop. Netflix immediately started sending ‘recommendations’, so Wi-Fi was in ship shape I gathered.

I rebooted my phone. WhatsApp remained dormant. Tried updating the app. Still didn’t work. Tried switching off Wi-Fi and letting data kick in. Nada.

Something was definitely wrong with my phone.

That’s when I had the bright idea. Google + WhatsApp + Not working. I didn’t have to go beyond “Whats…”; the rest came on auto-prompt. Okay, so it’s WhatsApp that’s not working, my phone’s fine, what a relief. Then, I discover it’s not just WhatsApp, but Facebook and Instagram too; it was world media’s top trending story — and, for once, there was no polarisation, no Fox News vs NYT happening here, everybody was united.

I could now, at long last, not be held accountable for being a slow/late responder, and missing out on messages at times (what to do, messages have this tendency to pile up like traffic, and one tends to miss the woods for the trees) and rest in peace, not pieces.

As I curled up on the couch, sans social media engagement, I had the best few hours in recent times. No attention seeking in group chats, no whiny messages from perennial cribbers, no useless information exchanges, no updates on how many buckets a Bollywood star’s progeny cried while in court. It was bliss. I managed to read a nice piece on The Atlantic at one go (I had earmarked it sometime back), without irritating notifications muscling their way on to my screen.

Maybe digital is not such a bad thing. (The Atlantic story, for instance, I read — and quite enjoyed — online, even though it was kind of morbid with the author explaining at length why he wants to die at 75.) Especially the paid offerings, where one ceases to be restless and light fingered since your hard-earned money is at stake.

It’s the free social media apps that harpoon us. The world wide web is actually a sea of possibilities, and you can always play it safe by skimming it, being a beached whale. But there’s social media lurking around like Moby Dick. And we are all Captain Ahabs, getting drawn into the depths of self-invoked despair.

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