Debugging 2017

Will 2017 be remembered as a year with a system-wide glitch?
Samantha Stamas/Globe Staff
Will 2017 be remembered as a year with a system-wide glitch?

It’s fair to assume that right now most of us are just looking for swift and untroubled egress from 2017, and that any devoted pursuit of explanations for this aggressively bizarre year can be reserved for once we are safe on the other side. That’s all fine.

But what then? How will we explain 2017 to others? To ourselves? How to explain the way truth itself transitioned before our eyes from solid to liquid to gas? The way the physics of ethics overturned themselves into an inverted gravity? The way the same error messages keep repeating, semi-automatically? The way our bad programming is becoming more than our public-facing interface can contain? Maybe what we’re after is a diagnosis: Why are we bugging out? 

Did humanity download a virus? Did a hunk of glacier melt onto the motherboard? Should we just power this thing down for a few? 


There’s not a Genius Bar genius enough to service all the problems slowing this world down, but in the spirit of troubleshooting (our mantra: “Try it now”), there may be some things we can do (or undo) to get to the root of the problem: Perhaps there was some preference we set with our thumb in 2017 that we need to uncheck. Or maybe there was some important data we deleted or a connection we lost. Or maybe our compassion deficit compels us to be racist, sexist, selfish, ignorant, and indifferent toward one another. Probably a combo of things.

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All that said, what follows are a few small suggestions toward debugging 2017 in hopes they may be included in a systemwide update for the new year. I’m wrong a lot and don’t expect any of them to fix the Internet — in fact, part of me feels like each year is built to start performing really poorly right before its warranty expires, forcing us all to reinvest in the new one. (Pretty sneaky, time.) My hope is just to reboot a few regular processes without having to use an actual boot. 

Issue: Critical error. Users report difficulty processing overload of incoming information.

Fix: Everyone, tweet less. Or barring that, tweet shorter. I get it: Twitter is a mess. It’s mostly paid pundits, celebrity assistants, automated bots, PR interns, restless narcissists (hi), and some of them, I’m sure, are good people. But no matter who they really are or where exactly in Russia they’re posting from, their collective noise on Twitter is a lot. Adding to this is Twitter’s recent doubling of tweet lengths to 280 characters (my least favorite development of 2017), further muddying an already toxic stream. For best results, remember that in giving us a way to tweet more, Twitter’s expansion of the tweet’s dimensions more importantly gives us an opportunity to be cool and not tweet more. Think of every tweet like a co-worker’s doorway. You get 90 acceptable seconds, max, to linger there yammering about something. But really: Do you need the full 90? Ever? You do not. Say what’s up and go. 

Issue: Syntax error. Users report unclear signals, data loss.


Fix: First, check wireless signal. Then, stop calling things that aren’t challenging “challenges.” Stop calling Nazis “white nationalists” or “Nazi sympathizers” or “the alt-right.” Stop calling privatization of things “freedom” (looking at you, Ajit Pai). Stop calling real news “fake news” — and while we’re at it, stop calling fake news “fake news.” Stop referring to lies as “post-truth” or asserting that truths are the product of “media bias.” Words mean things. Enforce this in your daily life online. (“Friends,” “Likes,” and “Follows” should likewise be checked against reality to test compatibility.)

Issue: Path not found. Users report unsuccessful exchanges.

Fix: You’re not going to be able to change minds with the people you argue with online. Or you might. Thing is, you will never know! It could take seconds, it could take months, it could be a “Rosebud” moment, or it could never happen at all. What definitely can happen is you tipping over on your desk from high blood pressure because some guy named Sam with an eagle for a profile pic called you a litbard, spelled just like that. Try disconnecting from arguments with strangers; it should remove system glitches, as well as increase the life span of your poor keyboard. 

Issue: Fatal system error. Users report hopelessness, lack of power, limited choices.

Fix: We’ve been getting this one a lot. Best fix for this is to fight like all get-out through this holiday season (when you’re not supposed to care about anything but, you know, each other) for Net neutrality, which is so, so deeply screwed right now. If the Internet feels crazy when it’s out of control, just wait for the version of it under heavy control. And if you think that’s bad, wait for the version of yourself that’s actually nostalgic for how bad it is right now. That will be worse. Call your representatives and tell them to preserve Net neutrality. That’s one thing you can do. 


Issue: Invalid operation. Users report exhaustion.

Did humanity download a virus? Did a hunk of glacier melt onto the motherboard? Should we just power this thing down for a few? 

Fix: Check connection. If it works, there’s your problem. 

Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.