Forget Water Coolers—It's All About Hashtags Now

O. J. Simpson's low-speed chase, the blackout in the Northeast in 2003, Kanye "I'ma let you finish" West at the MTV Video Music Awards—these are the "common denominators" of our time, to borrow a phrase from NEWSWEEK's editor in chief, Jon Meacham. They are the water-cooler moments, the events that everyone talks about the next day at work, the connective tissue keeping American culture from liquefying into isolated pools of niche interest.

And increasingly, they happen online. Every time Gmail burps or Facebook hiccups, the Internet bonds together and acts as if mankind has suddenly been united by the discovery of a hostile alien force. And so it was today with The Great Reset, when Twitter reduced everyone's follower count to zero. It was only a temporary measure to provide a little slack for Twitter's programmers to fix a bug, publicized by Gizmodo, which allowed any user to force another to follow him or her. But even Twitter must have been surprised by the outpouring of bemused grief that happened when, shortly after 1 p.m. in New York, the service's 75 million users logged in and found that zero people were following them.

David Carr, a media reporter at The New York Times and popular Twitterer, summed up the feeling:

All that hard work of effortlessly accumulating random, faceless strangers and porn bots—for naught! Oh, the horrors. There is probably no group more ego- and status-obsessed than journalists, and NEWSWEEK is no exception. In the first few minutes after The Great Reset, at least two-dozen messages flooded a group e-mail list here at NEWSWEEK HQ—a rapidity that came second only to this winter's Snowpocalypse, when intrepid NEWSWEEK journalists sent an avalanche of worried e-mails about the white stuff outside their windows.

Even Justin Bieber, the teeny-bopper celebrity that pretty much owns Twitter, was affected:

He was wrong, of course, and remained a trending topic even as the glitch demolished his follower count. Luckily, the world found encouragement from P. Diddy:

Needless to say, Diddy took credit once Twitter's programmers finally found a fix. Conan O'Brien, however, found his faith rattled:

Conan's comment may have been tongue-in-cheek, but there's a grain of truth to it. Twitter isn't about to take over the stock market (though maybe it should), but, for better or worse, it is now the water cooler where we bond over shared events, from awards shows to natural disasters. And nothing is more disastrous—or at least more talked about—than when the water cooler itself breaks.