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One strange outcome of the US government going on hiatus is the fact that a bunch of federal websites have shuttered their screens. Seems a little overdramatic. NASA.gov shut down. LOC.gov (Library of Congress) shut down.  FTC.gov shut down. They’ve all posted messages saying “Sayonara suckers.” Translated in government speak to:

NASA.gov shutdown message

NASA.gov shutdown message

You don’t tend to think of a website like an office — it has a life outside the organization it represents. Pages don’t turn off at 6 PM just because workers go home then. The Internet is a graveyard of websites whose original creators have forgotten them, but the links still live on.

So why are the federal sites turning off? Why not just leaving them running, so their information is at least searchable if not updated throughout the budget break?

The Director of the Budget Office sent a memo to all agency heads, explaining how the shutdown was going to impact websites (among other things). It’s confusing and filled with more jargon than an enterprise press release. Plus, it doesn’t actually state what agencies should do with their websites — it just makes it clear that no money should be spent operating them during the hiatus.

Theoretically, if an agency wanted to leave the site running and it didn’t cost anything, that would be ok. But as Quartz has pointed out: technical staff who manage websites and server hosting companies won’t get paid. That doesn’t necessarily mean the site has to shut down though — it can exist in employee absentia.

But the guidance in the memo is vague and agency employees are interpreting it differently. Some are leaving their sites up, but not updating them. Others are shutting down their site, with a cranky “We’re not home” note stuck to the front.

For the end user, the website closures feel like a form of protest. A way to show the American population exactly what we lose out on if the government goes away. We live in a society where the digital is becoming more closely entwined with the physical. Our online lives are — in some ways — just as important as what we do offline. So ‘turning off’ websites is a way to drive home the impact of the government shutting down for the masses. It brings something that’s abstract and intangible to life.

[Image via Thinkstock]