The Silicon Irony of Shutdown Day

April 16, 2008

Shutdown Day Unplugged

‘Can you survive for 24 hours without your computer?’ asks the Shutdown Day website.

Jack Bauer couldn’t. Here’s the script I’m writing for a season of ‘24′ that takes place during Shutdown Day:

jack shutdown day“Chloe! We’re running out of time! Have you hacked into the satellite grid to get the coordinates?”

“I can’t, Jack! It’s shutdown day! We’re saving energy and having a flash mob! Do you have a map?”

chloe shutdown day“Dammit Chloe, there’s no TIME for a map!”

“Jack, this conversation can’t be happening! This is a VOIP phone! Hello? Hello?!!!”

I’m a fan of movements, of flash mobs, of almost anything that gets people to try thinking and acting differently. Despite being a marketer I’m a fan of Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day, for example. Getting away from the computer and interacting in person is good. Shutting down to save power is good. No arguments with any of that.

But there is a rich cultural irony in Shutdown Day. My first PC in the dinosaur days was not connected to anything. I did word processing, spreadsheets and games on it. Movements in those days were a mainstream affair. They had to be – unless a lot of people felt the same way you did, it was far too expensive to build a network of like-minded people. So movements occurred where like-minded people happened to be clustered. Proximity spawned both the KKK and the Watts riots.

That changed the day I plugged a 14.4K modem into my PC and launched an application called Trumpet Winsock that let me find information with Gopher, download it with FTP, and engage in what the kids these days call ‘social networking’ via BBSs. And I soon found an application called Mosaic that let me view all this information I was exploring in a graphical form. Mosaic led to Netscape, then IE, then Firefox. Email connected me with people around the world, then IRC, then blogging, then Twitter.

A lot of things changed, but here’s the important one: proximity doesn’t matter anymore. Whatever I’m into – LOLcats, collecting Beanie Babies or Fiestaware, railing against consumerism, coprophagia (don’t look it up), or anything else – connecting to people who share those interests is easy.

Every aspect of Shutdown Day is not only computer-enabled, it’s impossible to execute without computer aid. Looking at their list of actions, here are some examples:

  • ‘Register Online’ – How would one get the word out and build community without the Web site? Potential participants aren’t clustered in any one location or around any one set of interests to make reaching them easy. Mass mailing and advertising would be ineffective
  • ‘Make video and photos and take a chance to win one of our amazing prizes’ – by submitting that content online, of course
  • ‘Communicate’ – they do advocate talking to friends but quickly add a recommendation to discuss it in online forums, blog about it, use del.icio.us, Facebook and Digg
  • ‘Organize Shutdown Day Flash Mob’ – via the Web, of course. They’ll post your information on the site so other organizers can coordinate with you, and please submit the video of your event online
  • ‘Advertise’ – on your blog, forum or Web page
  • ‘Purchase a T-Shirt’ – using our convenient and secure e-commerce platform

I’m pretty sure that Andy Kaufman is dead. But if he’s not, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the mastermind behind Shutdown Day. It’s meta-satire worthy of Andy.

photo by spiritokko

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2 Responses to “The Silicon Irony of Shutdown Day”


  1. Your writeup is spot on. Indeed, to many of the people who raise this issue – it’s not very clear as to how we plan to answer this irony.

    The answer is really simple: All of our audience is sitting in front of a computer, because if you are not sitting in front of a computer, then well, Shutdown Day isn’t really for you!

    Secondly, we are doing all our marketing over the Internet, using computers. Ideally, we’d like to avoid that, but unfortunately, we are currently footing all our expenses ourselves, and hence we really cannot afford to conduct the campaign on any other forum! Internet is really the lowest cost method for us.

    Hope this answers a few paradoxes 🙂

    Ashutosh
    Co-Founder, Shutdown Day

  2. rsomers Says:

    Thanks Ashutosh! Indeed, if you’re targeting computer users, there’s no better forum than the internet. And it is a fantastic low-cost marketing medium for any purpose.

    Seems to me the best way to answer irony is to cheerfully acknowledge that life is full of paradoxes & ironies – exactly as you’re doing.

    Best of luck, and let me know how things go for you on May 3rd. But I may not answer until May 4th. The idea of a keyboard-free day is pretty attractive and I might even go outside!


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