An oral history of what happened when the Quartz office internet went down

Things went downhill pretty quickly.
Things went downhill pretty quickly.
Image: Reuters/Nikola Solic
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Today (Friday, May 11) at 11:44 am, the internet went down in Quartz’s New York office, plunging our digital newsroom into chaos. This is the oral history of what happened next.

Silence, and a murmur

Molly Rubin, special projects researcher: The second the internet went out, everyone started talking. You could tell something had changed from when it was on to when it was out. It was like the sound of productivity versus a crescendoing chatter.

Xana Antunes, executive editor: The office became incredibly noisy as people discovered the lost art of talking to each other, whilst the more enterprising figured out how to tether their phones to their computers and carry on.

Annalisa Merelli, reporter: I thought when the internet went out, the newsroom sounded like we were in a movie about journalists.

Adam Freelander, senior video producer: I was right here, where I usually am. Sitting here with Molly. I don’t know what website I was trying to load that first tipped me off, but I first assumed it was my computer. And then when I realized the internet was out, I assumed maybe I had done it. No specific reason, just guilt.

Panic sets in

Molly Rubin: I tried to do work on Slack, but it was too slow, so I gave up. Now I’m reading.

Solana Pyne, executive producer: My neck hurts from working on my phone.

Michael Tabb, video journalist: I’m painting a bobble-head of [Quartz reporter] Leah Fessler. The primer’s not quite set, so it’s a little tacky and not quite ideal. But I think it’s a good use of time.

Adam Freelander: I thought, “I have to write this email,” but I still haven’t written the email. It turns out having the internet wasn’t the main impediment to writing the email, I just didn’t want to do it. I told Molly and Johnny about Mutiny on the Bounty. They were not super interested, I would say.

Georgia Frances King, deputy Ideas editor: I’m thrilled because I had a big pile of editing that didn’t require internet to do, and often the internet distracts me from doing it. So I now have no choice but to do the work that I’m meant to do. I’m forced to be productive and come face to face with my own … what is the word? I would look up this on, but I can’t.

Molly Rubin: I am now stressed out that I’m going to have a lot of work on Monday. I’d budgeted it in a pretty specific way, now it’s all gone to hell and I don’t know what to do. Obviously it’s fun to hang out and chat with everyone, but we come to work for a reason. It’s to do work. Am I going to work an hour more later today? Will I come in early Monday?

Daring feats

Annalisa Merelli: I thought I’d use this time to run errands. I needed to return something to TJ Maxx. So I went all the way there to realize I didn’t have the bill to return to the cashier. Then I realized, “What else do I need to do? I need to buy ladyfingers to make tiramisù.” So I went to Eataly—getting lost on the way—and it turns out they don’t carry them. So I really feel like I wasted my time off.

Mike Murphy, reporter: Dave [Gershgorn] and I slowly walked to Shorty’s, a cheesesteak place on 27th and Madison Avenue. We went partly because the internet was down. We came back, and ate slowly in the cafeteria. That was 11:51 am. It’s now 1:02 pm.

Dave Gershgorn, reporter: I’m now Airdropping all of my files from my work PC to my phone, so I can go home and finish my weekend essay and file it to our illustrious editor Matthew Quinn, who has internet. [Spends a few moments making guesses about Quinn’s middle name, which he cannot remember but knows begins with an F]

Bonding in the midst of disaster

Anne Quito, Thu-Huong Ha, and Rosie Spinks, reporters, eating collectively in Quartz café area:

Rosie Spinks: I was like, “Hm, the internet’s down. Lunch?”

Anne Quito: Because of that, Rosie discovered how intense salad ordering and eating is in New York City. We got rejected from our first Sweetgreen order [on the app] because the location was too busy. It just said, “Try again later.” But the notion of ordering salad through an app sounds preposterous.

Thu-Huong Ha: The story here is, the internet went out. We were going to get something unhealthy to eat, then we got something healthy instead. We weren’t planning on spending time together, so that’s great.

Anne Quito: But now I’m stressed that I’ve lost 400 words.

Rosie Spinks: Okay, I have to go now.

Johnny Simon, photo editor, Adam Freelander, and Molly Rubin, gathered by some desks:

Johnny Simon: We had a long discussion about breadfruit. It’s kind of like the real-life version of Twitter.

Molly Rubin: The assistants all got together for a mini-reunion in town hall, which was nice. We chatted and gossiped and caught up on our lives.

Adam Freelander: You know what the worst part of this is? Thu [Huong Ha, seen earlier eating lunch with Anne Quito and Rosie Spinks] asked me if I wanted to get lunch, and I couldn’t because I had to go to a meeting. Then the meeting got canceled, and now I’ve gotta go to lunch by myself. That’s the worst part.

An outside view

Elijah Wolfson, editor, works in San Francisco.

Elijah Wolfson: Let’s see, it was 11:44 am there, so 8:44 am for me. I would say, not a lot changed for me. Everyone was responding to me that I messaged, so people clearly have enough data plan minutes to at least respond to Slack messages. So honestly it didn’t impact me much at all.

I guess I would say less people were messaging me, which is a good thing. People were responding, but less than the usual number of incoming Slack messages. So it was slightly less distracting than the usual 10:45-11:45 am [EST] window.

A time for reflection

At 1:08 pm, end-of-day office cocktails planned are canceled because the wifi issues mean that the organizers anticipate low attendance.

Oliver Staley, reporter: What children we are that we can’t even drink without the internet.

Molly Rubin: Can you imagine what it would be like if the internet went out in the world for the day? The markets would crash, the banks would … I don’t even know.

Mike Murphy: It’s nice talking to people. It’s a lovely day out. 

Anne Quito: Facebook has this every week. They slow down the internet to the speed in Africa, so everyone in the company would know how it feels to design for that type of speed.

Does losing the internet teach us anything about ourselves?

Jackie Bischof, deputy editor of the Quartz Talent Lab: This has taught me that people talk a lot more when the wifi is down; the office has much more of an energetic vibe. I didn’t know I missed that.

Adam Freelander: That’s a pretty personal question. When it went down, I was like, “Oh, it’s okay, video doesn’t really use the internet the way the rest of the newsroom does. I don’t need the internet to do my job.” But actually, yeah, I’m way more dependent on the internet then I think of myself as.

Solana Pyne: Is this really the first time we’ve experienced an internet outage? I learned nothing. I know myself.

A new hope

At 1:47 pm, the internet comes back on. The office is filled with soft cheers. “It’s back!” “Whoo!” “Do we get to un-cancel cocktails now?” Cocktails are, indeed, back on.

Olivia Goldhill, reporter: I feel like I have a surge of energy and potential, and can achieve so much with the greatest tool ever invented!

Molly Rubin: I didn’t realize how devastated my life had become for the past two hours until the regularity of Slack notifications came back, the emails came through, now I’m whole again. It was like we were at summer camp for two hours, and now we’re back.

Mike Murphy: Johnny said, “The internet is back,” then I Googled something and it worked. Actually, I always use Ta.Co, Taco Bell’s website, to check if the internet is working, because it’s short. I’m glad I can do all the work I need to do by the end of the day now.

Adam Freelander: The perfect coda to the story: As soon as I ordered my dumplings “to stay” I checked and the internet had come back on. So in the end, I think I made the internet turn on, too. By ordering food to stay.

Xana Antunes: I’ve been out to lunch and had a whole life since. It all feels like a very long time ago.