Exactly 10 years ago today, the lights went out in the northeast. Just before 4:10 p.m. EST on August 4, 2003, a software bug in Ohio caused 55 million people, ranging from southern New Jersey to Canada, to lose power for about two days.
At the time, it was the second most widespread blackout in history.
Most people probably remember exactly where they were when this happened. I was 16 at the time, and I recall swimming in my friend’s pool, when his mom came outside and said that the power went out. Of course, whenever that it happens, you assume it’s a local problem. It wasn’t until a little later when we learned that millions of people had been affected.
I went home shortly after, and spent the rest of the day listening to the news on a battery-powered radio, reading some books, and hanging out with my mom and dad. And when it got dark, for lack of better things to do, I went to sleep.
This was years before smart phones, iPads and Facebook. I didn’t log onto social media to complain. In fact, I didn’t complain, period. I don’t mean that to say that I handled it better than most people, but, it was my summer vacation from high school at the time, and there really wasn’t much else I needed to be doing.
In fact, I remember being intrigued and even excited by the whole thing. It was obviously a unique experience, so I took it in stride and made the most of it. There were no technologies that I desperately missed. We had a computer, of course, but I had no problem going one day without AOL Instant Messenger.
If anything, the night was blissful and cathartic.
Flash forward 10 years, and many people who live in New York and New Jersey endured an even worse experience in the recent past, when power outages lasted anywhere between seven to 14 days in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
Except this was different. Why? Because of smart phones. Now that we’ve lived in the era of the iPhone, the Droid and the Samsung Galaxy, there’s no going back. So when the lights went out at the end of 2012, people did not know what to do with themselves.
They had to sit there, and actually… talk to people. And open a book. Or *gasp* … go outside.
Things that we did as teenagers — with or without electricity — suddenly were alien to us. We couldn’t sit on a couch for minutes at a time and not access our phone to see what the rest of the world was doing. And even worse, there was no outlet to vent our frustration because Facebook was inaccessible. Oh, the horror!
And I’m not judging. I remember myself becoming a little antsy during the days after the storm. I tried to make the most of it, but I felt secluded, isolated from the rest of the world. It wasn’t the same when I was 16, when the muffled audio of a radio, and the silence of the night brought me inner peace. And that saddens me.
To see how reliant our society has become on technology, all we need to experience is a good, old-fashioned blackout. In 10 years, blackouts went from being a fun and zany affair to being as traumatic as spending a week on a deserted island with no food or shelter.
But, who knows. Maybe I am being cynical. Perhaps, someday, we will all be able to channel our 15, 16 and 17-year-old selves and once again enjoy a power outage.