We are impatient children. Of course the web pacifies us with puppies
The internet so rarely surprises anymore. But last month when I tried to view my Amazon wish list, a Jack Russell terrier appeared, along with the message, “Sorry, something went wrong on our end.” When I tried to log in anew, two collies named Butters and Marge showed up with the same message. My Chromebook has a similarly quirky way of telling me things aren’t working: It displays a dinosaur that looks like it was DOS coded, its beady eye winking at me until it reconnects to WiFi. Google offers a cheeky “Aw Snap!” message when pages won’t load.
Cute. It disarms. It mollifies. And it is all over the web.
Handsome couples roughhouse with their chocolate lab on your bank’s home page. Adorable freckled children being tended to by kind doctors pop up on your healthcare portal.
There’s a good reason for this; even as the internet has become faster and more functional, our patience for errors or slowdowns has thinned. But it’s hard to get mad at cute.
In the dial-up days of the early ’90s, the internet was a narrative of failure: perpetually dropped cellphone calls, a dial tone that failed to squawk its way into connectivity, multiple daily mainframe reboots, lost data. No one sent pictures of Weimaraners to quell our frayed nerves.
But as we skitter toward the Singularity, innovation apathy has crept in. Even though we carry in our pockets smartphones that eclipse the processing power of the NASA mainframe that put a man on the moon, we silently curse the fact that calls are still dropped, texts go undelivered, and that voice transcription mistakenly auto-corrects our expletives.
We have become impatient children online, and so companies treat us that way.
According to a recent study by Pew Research Center, 25% of all U.S. adults are “constantly online” and 77% of all Americans go online multiple times a day. With this kind of immersive mind-meld in full effect, our attention spans dry up and the glitches become harder to bear. In his bestselling book “The Shallows,” Nicholas Carr posits that as technology provides ever-more stimulation, we find ourselves panicked by “dead air.” A 404 Error page isn’t a comforting notification or a useful alert. It’s a crisis. There’s nothing for us to click or read or buy, and we don’t know how to handle it.
We have become impatient children online, and so companies treat us that way. Amazon and Google play the role of avuncular tech giants, reassuringly patting our hand and showing us cute puppies.
There are far more serious things for us to worry about, of course — Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook swipe, for one. But no one is thinking about massive data theft when they are trying and failing to “one-click” dog food on Amazon. At some point we all confront road rage on the information superhighway, and although I wish the web would be more adult about it, I’ll concede that the fault lies with our own twitchy, grasping fingers.
Marc Weingarten, the author of “Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water and the Real Chinatown,” is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
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