Instagram, Tom Sawyer, The Terminator and Don Draper

I’m almost convinced Facebook staged Wednesday’s all-day near-blackout on purpose.

If Instagram is still down by the time you’re reading this, then you’ve certainly got a few extra minutes to burn, so do me a favor. Read Chapter 2 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where Mark Twain explained social media marketing all the way back in 1884.

Oh great, you’re back. More on Tom Sawyer in a moment.

The blackout was devastating. Lindsay Lohan couldn’t take it, requesting that Instagram contact her. The lower-case, no punctuation request/demand was softened by a “please,” but she seemed to mean business.

The Fat Jewish (no really, that’s a popular influencer’s nom de guerre on social media) wondered what would happen if the ‘Gram never returned. Joking about Instagram models going unemployed was low-hanging fruit, knowing he’d garner tons of “engagement” when people clapped-back at him, asking where he’d go to steal content.

Others wondered if Elizabeth Warren had already broken up Big Tech.

Everybody was talking about it on Twitter, since it was the only major platform operating at the time. (Sorry, Snapchat.)

Make no mistake, the prolonged Instagram blackout was a cultural event. It was bigger than Beto O’Rourke confirming his presidential run (maybe push that back a day, strategy team?), The Bachelor Finale recaps or Donald Trump grounding faulty 737s.

The visceral, unhinged reaction to the longest blackout in Facebook’s history was a depressing confirmation of what we’ve long since already accepted: our phones own us, and it’s rapidly getting worse. It’s a runaway train, and the distracted conductor’s not looking at the tracks ahead.

The alarming chart below made the rounds on Twitter two weeks ago. It’s no coincidence that the spike in pedestrian fatalities, which dropped consistently from 1990-2008, started climbing again in 2009, just two years after the introduction of the iPhone in January 2007. While the simultaneous proliferation of SUVs certainly plays an important role in this chart (heavier vehicles with more force, more horsepower and higher carriages creating deadlier impacts to the torso), phones monopolizing our attention both inside and outside of the vehicle are, without question, an irresistible force.

This chart is truly tragic. The “Don’t Drink and Drive” message we were bombarded with since the late 1980s made a protracted but significant impact over a 20-year period. Sadly, all of that work has basically been undone in half the time. Our smartphone addiction is Exhibit A.

The machines are literally killing us, and Skynet isn’t even self-aware yet. Or is it?

Maybe that’s why Mark Zuckerberg reportedly has a secret escape hatch under his office. So he can slither out of Menlo Park when Judgment Day is upon us and the machines have no use for us.

They’re already messing with us.Social media platforms are engineered to create psychological cravings. So what do you do for news, information or entertainment when you can’t get on Facebook or Instagram? Tun on the TV? Go to your local newspaper website?

What’s the URL for that again? (“Nevermind – what’s new on Netflix?”)

Journalists didn’t seem to mind Facebook and Instagram taking a siesta. After all, Twitter drives their relevance, and to a lesser degree, referral traffic. When actual news happens, people find out first on Twitter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was 2005 again, when people talked to each other at dinner, and you had to type in www.bostonglobe.com or www.sfchronicle.com to find out what’s really happening?

The replies to this tweet were fascinating.

For one, people don’t want to pay for content. They’d rather be the content. (“@OneSlowDude” is an interesting handle, all things considered.)

Dear @OneSlowDude: If it’s free, you’re the product, brother.

Journalists rely on those subscriptions (that you don’t want to pay for) to feed their families. After all, who is going to work for free?

Henry Apple (no relation to Tim Apple, at least as far as I know) certainly isn’t willing to work for free. But guess what? Everybody on social media is. Zuckerberg must have read Chapter 2 of Tom Sawyer, because he’s convinced a billion people to whitewash his fence every month.

But back to the replies:

“The local news is fake, but Instagram ain’t!”

Perhaps you want more world news, and don’t care about what’s going on in your own backyard.

World events are important. Alicia makes a point. Then again, what if the only news worth sharing is the news that hey, Facebook and Instagram are down?


It’s been a tough year for Facebook. Basically every story that’s come out in the last year has been negative, and now politicians want to break them up. They’ve lost control of their own narrative, which reminds me of the old Don Draper axiom of marketing.

Perhaps a little reminder from Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp was just what the doctor ordered. “You love us, and you can’t live without us.”

Finally, I’ll leave you with some Mark Twain:

“Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.