02/14/2011 09:35 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Living (Briefly) without Electricity

It's not a real winter in these parts without one good ice storm--the kind that covers all the trees with a clear-crystal-candy coating, stops all the traffic, and invariably, knocks out the power for a while. Which is an important reminder of just how close to primitive chaos we would be without a steady supply of that electric juice. In fact, I wrote this blog post on a paper tablet (gasp!) using a pen (shocking!).


When the electricity goes out there are essential things that become impossible to do. I can't use my coffeemaker; I can't use my oven (the stovetop is gas, and the fridge and freezer are on a backup generator, thankfully). I can't compulsively check my email or play music on iTunes. Obviously, I can't turn on any lights or check or to see if the world has ended or not. Even my phone will only work for a while (and doesn't work very well where I live anyway) without being recharged.

Here is what I worry about: Will the electricity come back on in time for my next coffee fix? (If not, I do have a backup system that requires more work.) Will we be able to watch American Idol? (I don't worry about having enough food, since I tend to stock up a lot and could last at least a few weeks if we had to.)

And here is what I am thankful for: Candles. Real books. Needlepoint and other crafts. A gas stovetop. A fireplace. Real paper. Real pens and pencils. Maybe a deck of cards or a puzzle, if we are feeling ambitious.


But here is what I noticed most after an hour or two of only natural light and no distractions. The universe shrinks measurably. Who I can communicate with is reduced from infinite to a few. I become oblivious to cyclones on the other side of the planet and revolts thousands of miles away. It's both a relief and a frightening prospect--that we are vulnerable, so dependent on such a fragile system. A thing we take for granted every day.


Sometimes, I think about what the world might be like a thousand years from now. If there is some catastrophe that eliminates the power supply or the knowledge that enables digital reality, think of all the things that will be lost--all our online photos, our Word documents, our ebooks, and our email. It will be worse than the alleged burning of the library in Alexandria. This is why, every once in a while, it's good to print things out. Write real letters. Make real photo albums, not just virtual ones. Keep a diary on paper. You never know what will be unearthed from protected pockets beneath the rubble of our current existence.

And in the meantime, the electricity comes back on and there will be an American Idol viewing this evening, thank goodness!

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