People start wandering, dazed, out of their cubicles. There’s no possibility of doing any work, even without he papers lying around your office. There’s inevitably some vital communication, some crucial detail, that’s locked away online. You see some of the more active go-getters using their smart phones, but more often than not they’re checking personal sites or looking at tiny funny cat videos rather than trying to be productive.

You find yourself talking with people you rarely see upstairs about things you didn’t know you had in common. That feeling in your chest at not being able to work seems about 50% annoyance and 50% relief. No, sorry, I didn’t get that report done. Network outage, remember? A deep and secret part of you wonders, wishes everyone would be sent home without pay. People begin to trade in rumors of a cause. Squirrels in transformers. Idiots with backhoes on the interstate. Fuses blowing in the data center.

Perhaps, if the outage lasts long enough, you’ll grow more contemplative in your conversations with yourself and others. What if the network never returns? EMP pulse, terrorist attack, corrupt disc, file not found, forever. How would you manage your life, pay your bills, entertain yourself? There’s been a network for twenty years, your entire adult life. You panic a little, trying to remember wha toy can from a less-wired childhood. It’s the addict’s panic on realizing that the next fix may not be coming.

You recall a colleague saying something over lunch, half in jest. He said that, when the inevitable Big One drops and civilization comes crashing down, alien archaeologists looking after us millennia later will be puzzled at why our civilization produced nothing after 1950 or so. Stuff that will survive–paper, carvings in stone–haven’t been made in about as long, and everything else is either digital-only or soon will be.

It’s a sobering thought, one that the glee of a half-day or day off can’t quite chase away.