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Could you survive without Gmail for six hours?

Enrique Dans
Jun 4 · 3 min read

Google’s cloud crashed on Sunday and was down intermittently for about six hours, affecting Gmail, G Suite, Nest or YouTube, along with Shopify, Snap and Discord. A few hours later these services were up and running again, the company will have to carry out a thorough analysis to identify the possible causes of the problem, compensate those affected and try to prevent it from happening again.

My thoughts on the subject are about the importance of certain services we tend to take for granted, but that like everything else in this world, can fail and does fail sometimes. Such problems are useful in helping us assess what is secondary and what is vital.

When Google services crash, which fortunately does not happen often, companies that use its email or applications for processing documents of all kinds suffer a range of problems, which rarely lasted beyond a few hours, but that can be serious if the crash happens on a business day. Other minor problems may occur with services such as Nest, which manage thermostats in homes, but that can be overcome or endured for a few hours. When Google services go down, the impact is potentially important: suddenly, confronted with no access to a range of activities that have become part of their daily lives, realize the extent to which they are dependent on the company. That said, given the overall reliability of Google, few people would consider reducing their dependency by creating a parallel system.

How about the other tech giants? If Facebook goes down, it’s not such a big deal. Unable to update Facebook or Instagram? Perhaps this would panic some people who don’t have their priorities in the right order: unable to send a WhatsApp? Annoying perhaps… but there are many alternatives, including, in the event of an emergency, phoning.

What about Amazon? Given the importance and widespread use of its cloud, the consequences would vary and affect virtually any company using its services. Given the amount of money it moves every second, if Amazon itself went down, this could pose problems not just for the company, but for its many partners who rely on its services.

In his highly recommendable book “Utopia for Realists”, the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman compares the impact of a 1970 bank tellers’ strike in Ireland with that of garbage workers in New York two years earlier: in the former, which lasted for six months, the Irish economy continued to function — and even grow — by overcoming minor inconveniences such as increasing the use of checks to replace cash; in the second, NYC’s authorities, with the city plunged into a state of emergency as a hundred thousand tons of garbage rapidly accumulated, were forced to negotiate and give in to most of the workers’ demands after nine days.

Which services and companies on the internet have managed to position themselves within a few years as vital, and which are superfluous and if interrupted or ended would suppose little more than a minor inconvenience we would soon get used to? As our dependence on the internet grows, every now and then it’s worth giving a thought to how we managed in earlier times…


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

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Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)