Blacked out and plugged in

When did our first move after a power outage switch from reaching for a flashlight to grabbing a phone to announce on Twitter or Facebook that we’d lost electricity?

I don’t know, but I’ve had a lot of time to think about that this week. As I started writing this post, it had been almost 40 hours and counting since the neighborhood went dark Monday night.

During that stretch–finally ended by the merciful restoration of current late Thursday Wednesday morning–I never lacked for adequate wireless bandwidth. My current surplus of review hardware helped, but even if I’d had only one phone and one laptop I still could have stayed online most of that time. It just doesn’t drain a laptop’s battery much to keep a phone charged, as I’m reminded every time I go to some phone-destroying tech conference.

How did I use that access? I scanned Twitter even more often than usual, realizing that things were a whole lot worse in New York than here. I lingered over some longer stores on the Web on a tablet tethered to a phone (no candlelight needed for this blackout reading, although having one flickering away on the coffee table made for a pleasing steampunk vibe). I got updates about downed trees and power restoration on our neighborhood’s mailing list, while Facebook let me see how friends slightly further away were doing.

I could, in fewer words, realize that we weren’t alone. That’s something.

This didn’t happen by accident. I have to give the wireless carriers an enormous chunk of credit for building out networks sufficiently resilient, and sufficiently backed up by batteries and standby generators, to keep working through these widespread outages. I also need to thank all of the engineers and developers who have spent the last decade finding better ways to put the Internet into a device that fits in your pocket and runs for hours on a charge.

Think about how technology has advanced when, even as your house has gone dark and cold, you can use a miniature computer to view of a photo of the hurricane besieging your city… taken by an astronaut sitting warm and dry on a space station 250 miles above.

10/31, 4:40 p.m.: Cabin fever apparently led me to confuse today with Thursday.

About these ads