I arrived home late Monday night after leading a workshop in Puget Sound, Washington, to discover that Hurricane Irene had knocked out the power in our rural community. Yesterday morning I was able to work on my laptop until the battery ran down, then my husband and I drove to Scranton, 35 miles away, and spent a few hours in a coffee shop, recharging our electronics and catching up on email.
We then bought some bags of ice and went home to move the food from the refrigerator into coolers. Even though practically everything on my to-do list involves the internet or the computer, I was looking forward to cooking dinner on the gas stove, then spending the evening reading by kerosene lamp. In late afternoon, however, the power came back on.
What, I wondered, would we as a culture do if the internet really went haywire? Forget the monumental problems that banks, airlines, governments would have keeping their systems running. How would we behave as individuals? I like to think that, despite the shock and initial inconvenience, we’d take some pleasure in the new reality. In the evening people might haul out old board games to play. Couples might sit in front of the fireplace holding hands and talking. Parents might tell stories to their children. Students on college campuses might once again exchange ideas in the student union instead of sitting in isolation over their smart phones. When the power was eventually restored, we would all be relieved. But perhaps we would also feel a tug of regret, as I did yesterday, that something creative, quiet, intimate, and sweet that had briefly touched our lives had now been snatched away.