In Quarantine — For The Love of 404 Pages — Get Lost

A global pandemic is the best time to be unproductive

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

I look for websites’ 404 pages as a hobby. Here’s a four-step guide:

  1. Type out random website’s domain name
  2. Add customary trailing slash
  3. Go absolutely bonkers on keyboard
  4. Click Enter

When the Gods aren’t playing some kind of wholesome trick on me where the page I typed out actually exists, this process leads me to a “404 Not Found” page. It’s a problem — the 404 page, that is, not the fact that I seek anomalies as a hobby. Like Thanos, 404 errors are inevitable, so some websites create their own custom 404 pages to save our eyes from the ugliness of their server’s default one. This investment helps them keep people engaged with the site, stay on-brand, and it makes people feel less frustrated by the problem they’re encountering.

Now, in the midst of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, with medical experts and governments ordering us to stay home to slow the spread of the virus, social distancing will bring on many low moments. Most white-collar workers have to work from home (search for its abbreviation “WFH” reached an all-time high last month); restaurants and other non-essential businesses are closing down, leaving retail workers like myself with either paid time off or nothing depending on the business or the country; overall, anxiety levels are off the charts.

In this time of quarantine, the Internet is a source of information, panic, but also solace as we try to find more wholesome and healthy activities to engage in. We’ll binge-watch entire 5+ season-long TV shows, finally match our actions with our self-proclaimed book-lover status, or play Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

These activities are no-stakes hobbies, or at least they should be. The system we live under — late-stage capitalism — glorifies productivity and optimization, so it’s hard to have a hobby without thinking, “How do I monetize it?” As a writer, any hobby or pastime I dedicate some time to falls prey to the nagging thought, “How can I write about this?” That’s why when people tweet that Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine, writers tend to think it’s the perfect time to get more writing done, to finally put more work into that novel. But what we forget is not only that Shakespeare had the advantage of not being a working mom, but that we simply shouldn’t glorify productivity during a global pandemic.

In an era where the new normal is the ability to monetize the very foundations of daily life such as friendship, love, and a good night’s sleep, I understand it might be difficult to suddenly change our ways, but this pandemic shows that our system doesn’t work. Even taking a break — the act of inaction — is now being branded as “dopamine fasting” to make resting sound like it has a purpose that fits within the cult of productivity we’re constantly drowning in. We shouldn’t have needed COVID-19 to figure out that this is all bullshit, but here we are, I guess.

In quarantine, I believe that we will rediscover no-stakes hobbies, so here’s my meager contribution: Spend a few seconds looking for your favorite websites’ 404 pages so you can get lost in whatever they have to offer. Maybe you’ll be disappointed in the ugliness of the default 404 page, but maybe you’ll get to meet the dogs of Amazon or read about the different economic theories that might have led you to the Financial Times’ 404 page, who knows? It’s a small distraction among many far more time-consuming ones, and it can be genuinely fun. A tiny break among many other ways to pass the time, looking for 404 pages is a hobby that rewards you for doing the most unproductive thing of all — getting lost.

Just like the links that lead to 404 pages, you might feel broken when looking at the current hellscape we live in, even completely lost, but that’s okay. After all, my favorite 404 page might be Medium’s, where we don’t just say “404 Not Found”, we say “here are three stories about getting lost, losing things, and finding what you never knew you were looking for.” When it comes to wholesome serendipity in uncertain times, I think this is as beautiful as it gets.

English graduate student and freelance writer based in France. Words at Level, Elemental, Gen, Human Parts, etc. Email: abderemane.m.assad@gmail.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store