Tabbed Out

This NYT article titled “Stop, Before You Close This Tab (or Any Others) …” by Ali Jaffe Ramis was shared on today and I want to talk about it for a bit.

Browser tabs have been around since the 1990s. Their creation is credited both to a firm called BookLink Technologies, which created a tabbed browser called InternetWorks in 1994, and a software developer named Adam Stiles, who in 1998 released a separate browser called SimulBrowse. Stiles was initially inspired to design tabs when he was using an HTML editor that allowed him to flip between documents. He wanted the same intuitive capability on his web browser. The convenience and organizational benefits of having all your web pages collected with the ability to toggle among them became obvious, and by the 2000s, tabbed-browsing was the standard.

The first tabbed web browser I remember using as a child was one called Avant Browser, before that I had been using Internet Explorer 6 and the concept of tabs blew my mind at the time. After that I found Opera and then Mozilla Firefox where I still am.

Whatever the inventors intended us to do with tabs, they probably couldn’t have imagined how emotionally attached to our tabs we would become. A recent study examining internet tab usage found that 25 percent of respondents experienced crashing browsers multiple times a week because they had so many tabs open at the same time. You may even be reading this right now on what feels like your zillionth tab.

This is the part about this article that I find fascinating. I am always closing tabs as soon as I’m done with them. If its something that needs to referred to later, I bookmark it. If its a article I want to read later, it goes into my read later queue in my feed reader. The only tabs that always stay open for me are the pinned tabs of which I have five.

Web browser vendors have even started mitigating the issue of too many tabs with features like Google Chrome’s “Memory Saver” feature which unloads tabs from memory if they aren’t being used actively. I also vaguely remember a joke about buying a computer with more RAM so you could have more tabs open in your browser.

I do wonder how the popularity of mobile web browsers affects this dynamic of using tabs as a breadcrumb trail of your life. Managing a lot of tabs is definitely easier on a desktop browser than on a mobile one, at least for me.

Some people get stressed out by too many tabs. They have a valid point: Science has proved again and again that multitasking reduces productivity. It’s distracting to have little winking reminders of everything else you’d rather be looking at than the task at hand. At this point, though, tabs feel like an extension of myself. If my computer suffers a surprise restart, the first thing I do when it boots back up is click “Restore All Tabs.” For a split second, I wonder anxiously if they’re gone forever — along with all that time I spent curating my personal internet, and all those valuable, if forgettable, web pages lost to the void of cyberspace. Once they’re gone, I won’t be able to find them again. They are little parts of me — my desires, memories, goals — that I’m scared to forget. But they usually reload, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

I get stressed out by too many tabs and unsurprisingly I am not actually that good at multitasking. I like to focus on one task at a time. That’s why I keep tabs open as long as they are relevant to the moment or task at hand and then they are gone.

But I cherish my tabs because they remind me of a simpler time and give me a sense of control and ownership. They make me feel like there are tiny pieces of the web that are mine.

Now this I understand even I don’t feel the same way.