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Technology seems to power everything, but it is a fragile machine

All U.S. flights were cancelled last week, and passengers on an Amtrak train were trapped in the dark for about 30 hours. Meanwhile, all third-party Twitter clients stopped functioning at the same moment.

One of them is obviously worse than the others, but they were all shut down for the same reason—the underlying technology “broke.” This comes as no shock to anybody.

To clarify, I am not criticising those who work to ensure that the equipment runs well. Keeping the wheels on the bus and ensuring sure nothing breaks must be a tough, thankless job. Nonetheless, we need to keep in mind that technology is sometimes like a huge Jenga tower, where it only takes one bad move to bring the whole thing crashing down.

You know from first-hand experience, just as I do. Interruption of ISP service causes internet outage. There are disruptions in phone service. Instagram, like many popular services, may and will sometimes have technical difficulties. In most cases, the issue is resolved quickly. Usually.

We really, really, really dislike being put through any kind of hassle by any of this. I know how much people detest it when the app or service they want to use suddenly stops functioning, even if it’s only for a short while, since tech blogs like Android Central are bombarded with complaints of difficulties when WhatsApp or Twitter go down so we can get the news out.

What many of us, including myself on sometimes, fail to appreciate is how intricate even the most elementary matter may become. The weekly podcast we record is about to begin. This is contingent on the proper operation of four separate computer-based services and the reliable operation of a single cloud-based communication service. Those utilities must also function properly throughout the editing process. In the end, your internet connection and audio streaming service should function seamlessly. If there is even a single glitch in the system, everything will stop.

Think about how much technology is required to keep the aviation business going, if something as basic as producing an hour-long podcast depends on so much of it. Systems to power the front end so you can acquire a flight, ways to keep track of where the aircraft are so the proper one is in the appropriate location at the right time, techniques to keep track of passenger bags, and so on and so forth need to all function perfectly.

It’s the computers, software, and personnel that keep the aircraft in the air and the passengers safe. When a single component of this technological system fails, the whole system grinds to a halt until the problem is “fixed.” Redundancy, in which backups of critical pieces of infrastructure are running in case one goes kaput, helps and is in place, but sometimes it’s not enough and you have flights stuck on the ground for 12 hours or people stuck on a train because a train on another track is broken, or broken APIs that kill third-party Twitter clients all at once.

Putting the blame on another person is simple and may be rather entertaining. A systemic failure at the FAA? The credit goes to Mayor Pete. Are there no working Twitter clients? We can only assume that Elon has once again sacked an employee. Is Instagram down right now? For Zuckerberg the Robot to function properly, he must be disconnected and then plugged back in. To be honest, however, that’s not how any of it works at all.

Certainly, Secretary Buttigieg had the opportunity to undermine the aviation business, but we all know that he didn’t. Perhaps Musk is eliminating third-party access as a means to Twitter’s budget savings, as he has in the past. That might happen, but it’s very unlikely to. To prevent kill-all-humans mode from activating, Zuckerberg likely requires periodic reboots, but that’s not how you repair Instagram.

We were looking at the facts. If things seem to be getting worse, it’s because more and more of our needs are met by services that rely on advanced technology, and because every error is magnified to absurd proportions by online forums and social media.

There have always been interruptions in service with your cable. Issues with your service provider have always existed. The large blue whale has long been a symbol of Twitter. Technical problems have caused the FAA to temporarily halt flights previously. This will continue to occur because there is one thing that technology cannot do: prevent devices from malfunctioning and requiring maintenance.

There are safeguards in place to ensure this doesn’t become an issue. The individuals constructing the 21st century recognise that the house of cards might collapse and make contingency plans accordingly, whether those plans include safety standards like those implemented by the FAA or server redundancy to get WhatsApp back up as fast as possible. It’s a bummer when it occurs while you’d rather be doing something more enjoyable, like playing on your phone, or working.

I’m confident that the initiative to adopt the technology includes planning for when it inevitably fails and how to repair it. I’m willing to wager that if it is, ChatGPT can tell us how to repair it.