Last night I experienced my first power outage in the city of Anchorage.
In all these years, I have never seen even a brown-out -- something which has always made me marvel, having lived through many winters in New England. I met a man at a party on the 4th of July who told me this was because Anchorage has been vigilant about maintaining, replacing & upgrading its grid. He also said that in the effort to improve the appearance of the bottom line, they were cutting back on the upkeep, that we can expect more frequent outages in the future. He would know, he is one of those guys who is spending less time updating it.
The outage was relatively brief & localized, but it was enough to give me pause & consider our modern human condition. When the power starts going out, will we wake up?
Five minutes into the outage, people started emerging from their houses. People I have never ever seen outside. Bewildered, like bats in the daylight, they wandered about & asked questions of their neighbors. The smokers, the only people I ever see outside, took the opportunity to light up. Are they somehow healthier for it?
Then, very much like the people you see in sci-fi films listlessly wandering towards the apocalyptic horizon, folks began drifting down the hill towards the end of the cul-de-sac to see if the traffic lights were working. The intersection is very busy down there -- something might happen. What if the lights aren't working? But traffic signals occupy their own special sectors of the grid. No drama there. How will we get drama without television?
Ten, fifteen minutes into the outage, my neighbors began drifting back indoors. I had hoped they might linger awhile in the fresh air, linger among their fellow humans. This is summer in Alaska. There was no Darkness, nothing to impede outdoor (or indoor) activity. Silently I wonder, 'When they get inside, will they wake up? Will they talk to each other? Play board games or pull out a puzzle?'
Twenty minutes or so into the outage, people begin to get in their cars & leave, I presume, in search of some place more hospitable. I wanted to believe that they would go for a walk along the coast, take the kids to a park or take a stroll downtown. But if I am honest with myself, I think they went in search of the Snooze Button. When the power goes out, go Shopping. There is electricity & Wi-Fi to be found in the mall, in the box stores, in the fast food restaurants. Comfy electricity. Comfy commercialism. Comfy consumerism. Comforters for those who Sleep.
And for those whose entire human community (maybe their entire world) is on the internet, it must have been much worse. No Spaceface. No Forums. No FantasyQuest. When the lights go out, they are severed, adrift. I remember this feeling. I once lived in a MMORPG. When the internet goes away, it is social anguish. Did they feel that desperation? When the lights start going out more often, will they wake up? Will they recognize the tragedy of their condition?
Fifty to sixty minutes into the outage, the people in the pink house have turned on their generator. I'm afraid I found myself completely aghast. In a blend of disgust & disbelief I grumble aloud, "I do hope they have a pressing medical need for that thing." But if I am honest with myself, I think it was the television. Without electricity, someone inside that house was going to miss a vital part of their Sunday evening routine. Or perhaps, it was dinner. Maybe they don't know how to prepare food without electricity. Goodness! No electricity! How ever shall they eat? That generator was a lifesaver.
After about ninety minutes, the outage was over. Click. Lights on. Generator off. Back to Sleep.