Retail Reflections

The Internet Just Went Down, That FaceTime Call Will Have To Wait

The Internet Just Went Down, That FaceTime Call Will Have To Wait

This weeks’ Facebook meltdown might have been an inconvenience for those of us desperate to share with the world more inconsequential nonsense of what was on our mind, but for thousands of retailers and millions of consumers, it was more than that. And the significance of this outage, the biggest since 2009, cannot be underestimated.

Back in the early eighties (which dates me!) I was a computer operator working at a data centre for one of the UK’s largest banks. It was complex work even then, with so many things that could go wrong and which were dependent upon one another. I always recall a colleague describe running a data centre as being like “driving your car in the fast lane of the motorway whilst simultaneously changing all four wheels”.

And when things went wrong (which they inevitably did from time to time, almost always as a result of a bad change) it could get extremely stressful, especially when interest on literally billions of pounds in transactions was riding on getting the problem fixed.

So I can well imagine the sheer panic at Facebook when faced with such a monumental crash. Now, I’m not about to go into the whys and wherefores and the cause of the problem – there are already plenty of articles covering that. No, what interests me more is the impact on the world and the place that social media has now assumed in our lives in less than fifteen years.

More than 3.5 billion people around the world use Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp, and not just to share their latest selfies or check in at the local bar and tag their mates. The place and influence of social media in society cannot be overstated. We’ve all become largely unregulated broadcasters and as social media has become so insidiously embedded not just in our social lives but our business lives, we have become incredibly dependent upon it.

It’s been estimated that retailers around the globe lost thousands as a result of this weeks’ outage, depending upon which time zone around the globe they happened to be in.

And retail is one of the sectors which is becoming more and more online, more digital, more immediate and more engaged, and which therefore stands to be impacted more than most from a sudden disappearance of the infrastructure which it now depends on so heavily.

But next time, perhaps it won’t be limited to just one social media network (as we know Facebook owns both Instagram and WhatsApp); if it could happen to Facebook, why not the entire Internet?

Those with a far greater understanding of Tim Berners-Lee’s creation will tell you that to lose the entire Internet would be impossible, but there again, prior to yesterday, so would Facebook, claiming that all their systems have multiple layers of redundancy built in.

But although artificial intelligence has come a long way, machines have yet to be able to think for themselves, or display emotions, or have a conscience for that matter.

A world with no Internet is a sobering thought. However did we manage to survive without it?

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