Is Google Down?

Magical realism for the holiday season

Is Google down?

Is Google down for everyone, or just you?

Is Google Calendar down, too? Can you get to GMail through Google's mobile app? Maybe you can get to Google Docs in offline mode.

By this point, you've already done your little routine to check to see if everything else is working. It's a routine that most of us only employ when it really matters, when we need something.

You might have asked yourself this question a week or so ago when Google went down. It's more than a question, no? It's a complicated emotion, correct? I know exactly how you felt, because it hit us all the same.

And you already know the answer to the question. You can feel it, or at least, y0u know you could feel it if you wanted to know for sure. Google did not go down. Some services shit the bed, but Google is inside us all, and only the dependent can--may--feel the truth.

The next time Google services go offline, do a little self-care check-in when you make the joke about being free. You thought about Google before, during, and after the joke. You know the Google service (the one without which your concentration shatters to pieces) will be back up in minutes or hours. It had better be back up, and Google services have always come back up, right? Should you stop checking and try to steal away, to take a few hours of personal time? No, because Google might do so something in the meantime, like bring those services back online, or your boss or colleagues might do something in response to Google doing something, or still doing nothing. Now is a perfect time to make that joke about being free, but do it soon, because Google is coming back.

Is Google Down For Everyone, Or Just You?

Google isn't down because Google never leaves us. Google is never down and especially not for you.

The Ashen Cloud

Is the Internet down?

The Internet isn't supposed to go down, and we have a whole mythology about that. The funding that built the Internet's precursor technologies and its initial protocols (many still in use) came from a US defense agency that the White House had tasked with developing survivable communications. That's DARPA's (then ARPA's) Command and Control Research (CCR) portfolio if you feel like checking it out (I was going for a picture but need to get this piece done; I've written elsewhere without much proofreading about it). DARPA funded engineers with strong commitments to the civilian world, who identified with civilian work more than military (even though they cashed military cheques), and who were the right candidates to develop, test at scale, and invent use-cases and applications for prospective technologies that could not be tested on the people that mattered, the ICBM silo operators, the SAC comms crews, whatever. So when it came time to write their memoirs, they remembered civilian research, as good liberals they wanted badly to remember as contributing to the public sphere and some vaguely Star Trek future, not a military-driven economy. So we started saying that the Internet's nuclear war origin story is a myth, even though it's not. You can go find the modeling of node survivability of the actual Internet in a time of nuclear war.

The Internet doesn't go down because it routes around damage. It's a big beautiful distributed topology, and when a node goes out, the other nodes work in concert to route traffic along routes that are not recently implemented and self-lit graveyards. The Internet survives because its macabre fault tolerance logic generates a lot of incinerated engineers and technicians. Watching that topology adapt would feel a lot like watching one of those YouTube videos that time-lapse a thousand years of Europe's borders changing, great movements powered with energy generated entirely from human ash and offal. The vague origin story metaphor is explicit in its celebration of survivability, and the genealogy to the modern cloud, the same design, the same survivalist fault tolerance, the same rhetorical strategy that celebrates the cloud and freely consigns so many of us to ash. That's the distributed Internet, that's the ashen cloud. It runs on people, just like Google. Let me explain.

Is Someone Watching You?

Does it feel like someone is watching you? Do you know how your brain decides if you are being watched by another person?

It's an interesting question. It shows up in the modern psychological literature in the early 20th with Titchener's The 'Feeling of Being Stared At. Many of his students were adamant they could tell when someone was watching. Goosebumps and other somatic manifestations of unease and that all-too-familiar generalized anxiety. Titchener found what later studies would confirm, that we cannot detect another's gaze in laboratory conditions. However we are very good at detecting gaze unconsciously, processing cues that our brain does not by default make available to conscious thought. And if our brain ever receives enough signals to even suspect we are being watched by anything, it sends a flash override up to the conscious mind.

Our brains compute the target of someone else's gaze by generating a fake energy beam of sorts, a "fictitious, subthreshold motion signal streaming from" the viewer to the viewed. " An imaginary beam of force; calculating visual motion for social thinking and cognition. In experiments, we've altered the perception of gaze direction by inserting artificial subthreshold movement that modifies (but does not reverse; that breaks the effect) our perceived direction of gaze. In better words than I can muster, It is an example of how the brain can construct models of the world that serve some adaptive behavioral function, even if those models are not physically accurate depictions of the world. We use vision to understand tools, too. Not the associative knowledge (e.g. this iPhone was made near Shenzhen) but the semantic primitives, the know-how and familiarity, the basic understanding of how something functions and what it does and how to use it.

How do you think your brain figures out if Google is watching you?

You see and feel yourself type and watch a word autocomplete; somewhere, maybe, your brain notices the duration and accuracy of the autocomplete. It notices far more subtle things every day, after all. And it certainly notices well-targeted ads. Not the ad, but the quality of its targeting. Hey, did that one person on the street look a lot like your uncle? Impressive your brain pulled his face out of hundreds. Did it notice that the computer is offering you things you want? This is all very visual, and it seems to implicate motor systems, too. Did your hardwired and hair-triggered survival system happen to notice that something is tracking your location? Did it infer that somewhere there must be the store of the behavioral data that makes all of this possible? Did it engage that signature and perhaps all-too-human empathy subsystem and try to generate a motivational logic for the weird hybrid person-tool that always makes itself felt at the edges of your environment? What did it do with its realization that you're always being watched? Did it tuck that intel away and forget it, or did your brain do what it always does, and bring even more bandwidth, cycles, and sensor time online to work the problem--all the while leaving your body in a perpetual state of battle readiness, life in yellow alert? The thing your background systems are trying to understand doesn't have human motivational structures, so that doomed process will run on its own in your background forever.

Anxiety. The result is generalized anxiety without end that cannot be interrupted by a forty-five minute failure of the Google Calendar web interface but not the app. You can try. Write down the Google, Facebook, Microsoft passwords in the kind of nice paper journal that you might use to start a neat little creative project, and then set that journal on fire in front of your family. Make an art exhibit out of the public and systematic destruction of your possessions, maybe with a brightly colored machine you set up in an art gallery, and go viral on YouTube. Take a flight. Buy some food. Turn on an appliance. Call a friend. Watch some porn. Buy the ticket.Cross the road. It's all Google, or at least, it's all the system in which Google is a dominant force, the system that Google keeps together.

Re: Diagnostic Criteria: 300.02 (F41.1): Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Or it's just anxiety, a generalized anxiety, of sorts. What we call Generalized Anxiety Disorder (300.02), or GAD, defined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It's a mental illness on the rise, at least in terms of longitudinal population-level data. This is how we describe what's going on--The gradual increase in anxiety that becomes apparent in longitudinal, population-level data--if we aren't partial to demonic possession or sin as better explanations.

The first thing to understand about anxiety is that this isn’t fear. According to bible of American psychiatry, the DSM-5, fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat. Our threat is not immanent. The anxiety and worry is out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of the anticipated event. My anxiety is proportional, because the threat is real. It is for you, too. Episodes frequently occur without precipitants. Ours is unending. But it is it without precipitants? We know it is not the product of the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism). But this is no exhaustive list. The authors of the DSM-5 admit as much, in the DSM-5: No environmental factors have been identi­fied as specific to generalized anxiety disorder or necessary or sufficient for making the di­agnosis. But it doesn't appear that anyone looked hard enough or cast their net far enough.

Maybe our anxiety is an appropriate physiological response to what is happening to us all. More later.