The notorious 404 error, “Not Found,” is often, not totally erroneously, referred to as “the last page of the internet.” It’s an obligatory heads-up with an outsize reputation; it is a meme and a punch line. Bad puns abound. The error has been printed in comics and on T-shirts, an accessible and relatable facet of what was once relegated to nerd humor and is now a fact of digital life.
That the 404 should have crossover appeal seems fitting. It is near-universal and inherently emotional: pure disappointment, the announcement of an unanticipated problem. It’s also a reminder that technology, and the web in particular, is made by humans, and therefore fallible. The internet, after all, is hardly a well-oiled machine; it’s more like a version of The Garden of Earthly Delights built by unidirectional hypertext and populated by broken links, corrupted image files, and incomplete information.