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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK


To start this story, it’s important to know that my desktop home computer is, in fact, a laptop. A hinge broke on it a few years ago, which broke some of the wires powering the screen, and anyone will tell you it’s darn difficult to work on a computer when you can’t actually see your work.

Now that I think of it, a Braille computer would be great – touch the screen and know what’s on it! But I guess in this case a Braille screen would have also been broken, and I can’t read Braille anyway, and I digress, so never mind.

As a result I hooked that computer up to a monitor, which rendered it pretty much useless as a laptop. Anyone seeing me walk around town with a laptop case in one hand and a heavy, rather ancient computer monitor in the other would think nothing good could come of it – not to mention the fact that the monitor had to be plugged in somewhere.

Which brings us a step closer to our real story.

The other morning I was playing – ahem – working on the computer, when suddenly the monitor went out. Now, this was no big surprise. The monitor is so old and generic that its brand name is “Monitor”. I knew something really serious had happened, because even the power light went out, but in desperation I hit the power button, wiggled the cord, smacked the side – all while trying to remember if I had a spare. (I do – but it’s even older.)

That’s when I heard a police scanner report that the electricity was out.

You see, I’m cheap, so I didn’t have any lights on in the room. Why didn’t I suspect a power outage? Why, because my desktop computer – which is actually a laptop and has a battery – stayed on.

But wait, it gets better.

A moment later a person in the house who shall remain nameless but is my daughter hurried into the room. She’d figured out before me what was going on, and fired up my other laptop, which still is a laptop. She wanted to check and see if it was a terrorist attack – which is funny on first thought, but not very funny at all on second. That computer, of course, has both a battery and a working screen – what it didn’t have was an active internet connection.

This brings me to the real story: how much we’ve come to depend on technology in our lives. The last generation of internet was dial-up (and still is, for many). We’d moved up to the next generation: DSL. In fact, wireless DSL. The speed! The freedom! The sense of hopelessness when the DSL modem has no power!

I picked up the telephone to call around and discover the extent of the outage. Aren’t cordless phones wonderful? I can move around anywhere on the property, no need to drag a cord around, no friggin’ signal when the base power is dead …

Luckily, I’ve always insisted on having one good old fashioned corded phone in the house – not that I could call any of my cordless owning friends, unless they had a cell phone. Daughter O’ Mine was quick to use her cell phone to check the news. Of course, if it had been some kind of Big Deal it would have been too soon for new organizations to pick up much of anything. But isn’t it nice to have instant news and weather feeds on your cell phone? For the extent of the battery life, anyway.

I walked outside and looked up the street. From there I could see the nearest gas station, which has gone to the electronic price board so employees don’t have to go out and raise the price by hand three or four times a day. Oops – looked like they were out of business. Three blocks further north drivers had slowed to a crawl near Albion’s only stop light, no doubt wondering who should go in what order with no green, red or yellow to guide them. My guess would have been that four-way stop rules applied.

Their confusion is understandable. When the power goes out, we all have some adjustment time, especially these days. How many people hit the TV switch to see if there was any news about the outage? Or turned on their radio? I know at least two people who climbed into their cars and hit the automatic door opener. How many of us automatically reached for the light switch whenever they entered a room? (This is where I raise my hand.)

The last time we had a major outage in Albion the emergency generator started automatically at the fire station, just as it’s supposed to. It powers such things as the radio equipment, overhead doors, coffee makers – the important stuff. How do you define important? Well, the bathrooms there are windowless – decent shelter in tornadoes, I suppose. At one point I went for a bathroom run, and discovered we’d forgotten to account for one thing I consider to be pretty important.

Picture me hurrying into the bathroom, wanting to do my business and get back out again. Flipping the light switch as I pass, I’m halfway toward the urinal, unzipped and, um, ready to go, when the door to the windowless room closes behind me.

It got real dark. In fact, that might be the closest to panic I ever got while doing the firefighting gig. I remember thinking, Lord, please don’t let the giant monster get me while I’m in this compromising condition! Let me die with my fly up!

I know that’s selfish, but it seemed like such a small thing to ask.

Both times the power returned, and so did my monitor, despite the abuse heaped on it. Meanwhile, despite how much I like my computer and my TV and my telephone, I’m stuck with the thought that the Amish probably never even realized there was a problem.

Comments

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
beer_good_foamy
May. 25th, 2007 09:42 am (UTC)
Heh. Great as always. Reminds me of this story. :-)

It really is scary how much we depend on these things, and how vulnerable we are. I work in a part of town that is basically nothing but hi-tech offices. A few years ago, we had a power outage that lasted for 2 days - everything closed down. Nobody could work at all. There wasn't even any way to go back to pen and paper since everything was stored on computers. Thousands of jobs simply ceased to exist until power was back. Makes me wonder what would happen to most of us in a real post-electricity scenario... I think most of us would starve to death in the streets, clutching our decharged cell phones, pawing weakly at lifeless ATMs.
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:35 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, I've been e-mailed that story many times. :-)

The story you tell is exactly my concern: That we become so dependent on technology that we'll be absolutely helpless to do the simplest things if something major goes wrong. It's like the old story about the people who panicked when the power went off and they were trapped on an escalator.
spikereader
May. 25th, 2007 10:04 am (UTC)
Thought this was going to be a 'Mark and Technology' tale, whereas it is a 'Humanity and Technology' tale. We do rely so much on our electrical gadgets. I'm glad it was just a power outage and not a terrorist attack though.
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:36 am (UTC)
A terrorist attack on our infrastructure is much more of a possibility than anyone's admitting -- even to themselves.

Anyway, I have plenty of Mark and Technology stories!
keith5by5
May. 25th, 2007 11:25 am (UTC)
I ask myself how people managed before cells.

The frightening thing? I don't even have one.
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:38 am (UTC)
I've had one for about two years -- a cheap pay as you go phone. But I signed my daughters up for the full cell phone package at Christmas, and their phones have been glued to them ever since; they panick if they're without them. They are nice to have in an emergency, but as I recall we got by pretty well before.
yume_kokoro
May. 25th, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC)
Remember when such helplessness in the face of loss of our precious technology was something we'd only see on old Star Trek re-runs...and laugh? Me neither. XD
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:38 am (UTC)
We caught up with Star Trek long before anyone thought we would!
(Deleted comment)
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:40 am (UTC)
That's what my columns are! I just have to put them together. :-) I was hoping to gain some fame through my fiction first, though, so my memoirs can get more readers.
curiouswombat
May. 25th, 2007 08:15 pm (UTC)
Hee - I recognise that recognition that not even the phone works without power these days! Last time we had a major outage was a couple of years ago and I came home to find the place gloriously lit with candles, the daughter playing games on her mobile phone, and the husband glaring at his computer and poking it at two minute intervals in case it would miraculously spring to life!
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:44 am (UTC)
That sounds awfully familiar! If our outage had gone on for long I would have had my daughter turn her cell phone off to conserve its power, which she wouldn't have liked very much at all. She kept checking the news feeds. :-)
redwolf
May. 26th, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)
I always have a corded phone around for the same reason.

Ran across an article this week about the Amish being into solar power, so they'd still be clueless about your power outage.
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:32 am (UTC)
While I still think their lifestyle has some advantages over ours, I just can't understand what the Amish are doing from a religious standoint. Electricity is immoral if it comes off the grid, but perfectly okay from a generator or solar panel? Phones are a no-no if they're wired to your house, but okay if they're outside on a pole? They can't drive cars, but riding in them is perfectly okay? I run into Amish people at malls and at Wal-Mart -- they come packed in vans, driven by a non-Amish.

Someone explain how this makes a difference to God?

(This is the column I'll never write because the Amish have heavy tools and big muscles.)
(no subject) - redwolf - May. 26th, 2007 08:46 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ozma914 - May. 26th, 2007 08:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - redwolf - May. 26th, 2007 12:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ozma914 - May. 27th, 2007 12:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ozma914 - May. 26th, 2007 08:56 am (UTC) - Expand
cbtreks
May. 26th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
Once when I was living with a couple of roommates up in South Bend, one winter weekend we had a power outage for several hours. We were getting hungry and realizing we couldn't cook anything since the stove was electric and one of my roommates suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, I forgot! I have popcorn - we can just microwave it! Oh, wait - " Yes, she actually forgot for a moment that the microwave needed electricity too. (I always hate when the power goes off at night and it's too early to go to sleep. You can't even read!)
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:47 am (UTC)
I recall Charis trying to do the microwave thing once, too. This is one reason why I like having a gas stove -- it can both cook and heat, if necessary. I also have a kerosene heater in the basement, candles, and flashlights scattered around the house -- although I sometimes forget to keep the batteries fresh. But I still kept hitting that light switch!
synaptikchaos
May. 26th, 2007 05:03 am (UTC)
Ah I miss laptops... that battery backup is a great feature.

Even with UPS, you can only get about 20 minutes of power for anything under 100 bucks. :\
ozma914
May. 26th, 2007 08:48 am (UTC)
Sadly, I've had my old laptop plugged in and stationary for so long that the battery's no good anymore -- it only lasts half an hour, tops. But I've got at least two good hours on the new one!
boy_named_susie
May. 26th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
Good points. Every once in a while when I think about it, it really freaks me out how dependent we are upon electricity. But then again, I don't think I could handle the Amish thing either, even if they do make really good baked goods.
ozma914
May. 27th, 2007 12:43 am (UTC)
good baked good, crafts, great construction work, nice people ... but what possible religious reason is there to not have hot water and take a bath more than once a week? I'm just sayin'.
(no subject) - boy_named_susie - May. 27th, 2007 12:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ozma914 - May. 27th, 2007 01:32 am (UTC) - Expand
amen, brother - ozma914 - May. 29th, 2007 09:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: amen, brother - boy_named_susie - May. 30th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC) - Expand
Buffy vs. Amish - ozma914 - May. 30th, 2007 07:16 am (UTC) - Expand
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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