REASON GONE MAD: browser tabs must die
Once, a long time ago, somewhere along the timeline between civilization’s defining moments of Discovery of Fire and The Oscars Slap™, an elegant piece of computer software was introduced that we called a “web browser.”
You may have known it as Netscape Navigator (née Mosaic) or Internet Explorer or Uncle Leo’s Window to the Web – a short-lived challenger of the dot-com bubble era for the tech giants. industry, funded with millions of venture capital inexplicably donated to Uncle Leo “Sparkling Clean” Badarsky, who until then owned a window cleaning business in New York City.
Combined with a state-of-the-art personal computer and an Internet connection provided by America Online or Prodigy or MindSpring or Earthlink or, briefly, Uncle Leo’s WebTastic ConnectOrama™ (his equally unsuccessful follow-on project), the first web browser was a miracle. modern. This made it easy for us to find, for example, a quirky personal website that might feature a list of foods someone liked. Or maybe a website that featured a list of websites that had a list of foods someone liked. Or even a website that featured lists of websites with lists of websites with a list of foods someone liked.
And this fascinating and insightful information on the mid-1990s website was presented in a single browser window that nicely filled the screen of your single computer monitor.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to go back to those simpler times.
Because in 2002, thousands of years after the discovery of fire and two decades before The Slap™, the evil geniuses of the Mozilla Foundation, creators of the Firefox browser, incorporated tabs into their product. We didn’t know it then, but the very moment tabbed browsing began, our civilization was doomed.
First developed in 1998 by programmer Adam Stiles in his web browser SimulBrowse – the name alone makes my brain feel like it’s being crushed in a vise – browser tabs have become a truly ugly and integral part of everyday life. . Today we have multiple computers (and cell phones and tablets), often connected to multiple monitors, with each monitor displaying multiple browser windows, and each browser window having tens, hundreds, or millions of open tabs.
Clearly, this is a crisis. We are tab hoarders. We repeatedly click “Open link in new tab”, our thirst for multitasking and gaining knowledge piled on top of knowledge is never quenched. Tabs for work projects. Tabs for half read articles we will definitely finish later today (cough coughs). Tabs for recipes. Tabs for webmail. Tabs for social media sites. Pinned tabs. Thirty-seven tabs for 37 different versions of loveseats you could purchase for your den. Tabs for articles on how to manage your tabs. Tabs for every column ever written by a certain Berkshire Edge columnist. Rinse. Repeat.
These open tabs undermine our sanity, taunting us with knowledge we’re not quite sure what to do with — or when to do something about it. They keep reminding us of the million dollar idea we had four weeks, four months or four years ago. on which we still have not acted. They sit quietly, catching our attention and adding a permanent, high level of cognitive load to our already overwhelmed and distracted brains.
These tabs are a touching reminder of incomplete tasks, unstarted or unfinished projects, unfulfilled dreams, and, in my case, endless lists of foods someone loves that I love. still did not try.
Last year, a team of eight researchers from Carnegie Mellon University—yes, eight! Too many, just like our tabs! – studied our use of browser tabs and published “When tab times out:
Challenges in the cost structure of using browser tabs. They found that more than 55% of us felt like we just can’t let go of our open tabs. And if they had asked, they would also have found that 100% of us were amazed to find that people actually get paid for studying browser tabs. (Click here to open their report in a new tab!)
There was a time when having too many open tabs slowed down or crashed your computer. It was an incentive to keep tabs to a minimum. But this is no longer the case: modern browsers manage resources more efficiently, for example by loading only active tabs with data that fills memory and hogs CPU power. Yet even with these improvements and more powerful computers, our systems still sometimes freeze due to load. And when does it happen? According to the Carnegie Mellon study, many people felt relief that their tabs were gone.
Unfortunately, sadistic app developers rushed not to save the day. They have added features that restore broken browser tabs with a single click. They want to make it impossible to escape your tabs! And after? “Your browser closed unexpectedly. But don’t worry! We just emailed you a list of links to your tabs! And we’re sending a hard copy to FedEx! You’re welcome, mate!
And the same software developers who created this torment continue to offer alleged solutions: tab managers to organize, repeat, preview, describe and report our tabs. And plugins to organize tabs into groups and then into groups of groups, which we can label and share and link to, ultimately creating a maze of browsers and windows and tabs and groups and groups of groups and links that even 100 Nobel Prize-winning mathematicians couldn’t unravel if given infinite time and infinite computing power and infinite cases of Red Bull.
So how about a plugin to limit the number of tabs you can open? The one that forces you to close a tab before adding a new one? Alas, someone created it for Google Chrome a few years ago. To date, it has been installed by… nine people. Not exactly a viral hit.
Or maybe one that quietly closes a tab that hasn’t been accessed in a while? Did you even notice that he was gone? Could you actually be deeply, utterly grateful and happy to automatically send the developer a tiny cryptographic token for every missing tab?
This has also been done (without the crypto payments). Some time ago, a programmer in Silicon Valley created a Chrome extension called Tab TimeOut that lets you set the number of minutes before a tab automatically closes. It’s clunky and not automatic and was only installed by 34 users (I was number 34). It was last updated four years ago this week.
But I bet someone could run with this idea to make the limited time tabs disappear, improve it and launch “Uncle Leo’s Ultimate Tab Destroyer. ™”. It would change the lives of millions or billions or potentially trillions of people. And with a name like Tab Destroyer, there could easily be a connection to the Marvel movie (“Tab Destroyer: The Browser Wars”) and possibly a cost-effective nutritional supplement (“Tab Destroyer Productivity Enhancer – Now with Ginkgo Biloba!” ).
Another solution? Clicking “Open link in new tab” would deliver, in my long time human conditioning method, a powerful but non-lethal electric shock through your keyboard. I may be a man of peace and non-violence, but it’s time to face the facts: we are hopelessly addicted to tabs and only harsh and painful interventions like this can break tabs’ hold on our lives and our well-being.
Fully credible research shows that the total number of open and unread tabs across all people, computer systems, nations, planets, and galaxies is approximately 4.752 gigatrillion-trillion-mczillion. These tabs are holding us back. They weigh us down. They stand in the way of the advancement of life. It’s time for them to die. So close all your tabs. Do it. Do it now. And in the future, only open a few at a time.
Related: A few years ago, The Coca-Cola Company discontinued its original one-calorie soda, Tab, after more than half a century of selling the barely refreshing, metallic-tasting drink to millions of people. He doesn’t bring it back. Few people miss it. And you won’t miss your open browser tabs either.
With that problem solved, we can finally tackle the other source of massive computing stress: the thousands of browser bookmarks you’ve created since the late 1990s. that you never, never saw again.
Bill Shein is the founder and president of Let’s Crush the Tabs, the non-profit organization behind National Close Your Tabs Day.