By Jason Snell
October 31, 2019 9:56 AM PT
Technology without technology
My power and Internet went out for three days earlier this week. Our regional power company cut the juice from my entire county in a preventative move to avoid accidentally starting wildfires during a period of high winds. There were no fires near us, but the next county up has been ravaged by numerous fires in recent years, mostly started by failures of electrical equipment.
Leaving aside the difficult concept of the crumbling infrastructure of the richest state in the richest country on Earth, it was an interesting experience to spend three days without easy access to the rest of the world. (I felt like I had prepared myself for the outage with fully charged batteries and more, but I didn’t count on two-thirds of my county’s cellular towers also failing in the outage.)
So what changed in those three days? We certainly got out of the house more, which the dog appreciated. We walked around and surveyed the devastation—which was essentially a bunch of closed storefronts and the occasional supermarket powered by a generator. Walks allowed us to occasionally sip internet from those supermarkets—or from sheer luck of being in line of sight from a working cellular tower.
I’m in the process of making some improvements to my office, after spending five years in it full time. Many of those improvements required unplugging my stuff and moving furniture around, and a forced power outage was the perfect time to do that, so I unhooked my entire office network, painted my office, moved the shelves around, and then reconnected everything in a newer, more efficient way. (I’ve found that one of the most satisfying things in home technology is re-wiring something and ending up with several cables or boxes that are no longer needed. I walked away from this one with a spare power strip, ethernet hub, and a whole wad of cables.)
Beyond keeping myself busy in the office, I did a lot of reading. One of the nice things about Kindles is that they’re remarkably power efficient, and they light themselves. I read most of three books during the outage, because I found myself unable to read newspapers or check Twitter and Slack. It was nice, but I didn’t love not being able to get access to the latest news. (I eventually went to our nearby supermarket-slash-hotspot and synced up a newspaper app and saved a bunch of stories from The Athletic to read when I got home.)
If you’re expecting me to declare that spending three days with the Internet a five-minute walk away made me re-think my life and priorities, and how I’m vowing to be more present and mindful and stuff like that… sorry. I got up this morning, made some tea, and read the news on my iPad like most days. What losing power and Internet did was make me appreciate just how much we all rely on our always-on connection to the world. The power outage was bad, yes, but the Internet outage was much worse. I think that says something—and not just about how all our devices are battery-powered, energy-efficient miracles.