Seldom do we realize what prisoners of technology we have all become... until our DSL line goes down. Gay or straight, atheist or Christian, Democrat or Republican, those of us who use the Internet all find ourselves suddenly and ruthlessly equalized when our ability to communicate online with the rest of wired humanity is rudely cut off for a week or two.
Once upon a time, back in the early 1980s, I was still typewriter-based. I was living in northern California then -- had a little mountainside property near Nevada City. When one of those typical Sierra snowstorms dumped 3 feet of snow on the county, and the power and phone service went out, I could sit cozy and warm in my little house and keep on writing by lamplight and typewriter.
The old Remington Office-Riter, one that I'd had for so many years, was clunky but it still worked good. A supply of paper and typewriter ribbons, plus kerosene for lamps, was always laid by, and my propane tank for heating and cooking was kept topped off. Thus provisioned, I could ride out a winter storm and keep on writing till the county snowplows finally dug me out. Meanwhile, there was no contact with the outside world except via a battery-operated short wave radio.
All the early work on my novel "One Is the Sun" was done that way. But by the time I finished the novel in 1989, I was using a PC, and enduring all the blessings and curses that come with growing dependence on electronics. In that quarter century since then, the planet that I live on has gone so wired that I've had to wire myself into it in self-defense.
But the more wired we are, the more helpless we are when things go wrong with the wiring. Many of us can't do business, or send emails, or upload documents, or do banking, or pay bills online... or blog. When backup batteries fail, you lose files.
For the moment, I'll be switching to a satellite-based Internet service shortly. The DSL was shut down by my phone company owing to an error of theirs; their customer service is so bad now that it took nearly two weeks, and innumerable complaint calls, to get the service restored. Indeed, telephone company service is generally getting worse and worse, judging by all the consumer anger you can find on the Web. But what happens when the satellite-based service goes down?
Many of us think we're prepared adequately for emergencies if we have an earthquake kit, a first-aid kit and a month's supply of water and non-perishable food -- maybe even a small generator and a supply of gasoline (stored safely, of course). But I've decided to get one of those good old typewriters, if I can find one on eBay... and if there are still companies that manufacture typewriter ribbons.
An inventor friend of mine keeps telling me, "Technology doesn't ever go backwards. Once you're made a step forward, you can't go back to where you were. Because, most of the time, the technology of where you were no longer has any support systems."
But meanwhile that step backwards might be a good survival move -- your "get out of technology jail free" card, as least temporarily. As the recession impacts ever deeper, infrastructure service is going to get abominably bad, especially on the electronics front. If we want to stay connected, we had better be prepared for all kinds of blackouts.
Meanwhile I'm awfully glad to be wired again, and back to my blogging.