What We Need is a Good Power Outage...and Other Thoughts

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

What We Need is a Good Power Outage

...and Other Thoughts

I have spent this afternoon wallowing in technology. I've played with my new computer on the wireless router my husband just installed. I've read the San Francisco Chronicle on my e-book reader while watching the Giants actually defeat the Dodgers. And I've spent some time downloading apps to my new smartphone. (They call it a "smartphone", by the way, because it's generally more intelligent than its owner--at least in my case.) It's been a peaceful, relaxing Sunday after a hectic week--and it occurred to me that without electricity, none of what I was doing would have been possible. 

I can remember when computers were billed as "labor-saving devices." Pretty funny, isn't it, given how much time most of us can waste on them. I do enjoy my electronically-enhanced ability to stay connected with family, friends, and colleagues, to get answers to questions immediately, to write down my thoughts and send them off into the universe, to have my paper delivered without needing to search in the gutter for it, and to hurl multi-colored birds at snorting green pigs when I'm utterly bored. But I also noticed that while I was indulging in techno-play, my husband was doing the same in another room. We occasionally cheered when the Giants scored but other than that, I might just as well have been in another city.

It's a common predicament for American families these days. Yes, these new toys and tools are marvelous: I sat in my office last week, gazing at my computer screen where two smiling faces looked out at me, and had a real-time conversation with some folks in Bogota, Colombia. It was amazing, something I used to read about in science-fiction novels when I was a teenager and never believed would actually come to pass. But there is a downside, too. Our connections with each other, always more fragile than we think, are becoming increasingly stretched. I routinely talk to couples, parents, and kids in my office who tell me it's "easier" to text than it is to talk. In many families, time together means that each person tinkers with his or her own personal device, essentially oblivious to anyone else.

So I was captivated by an image that appeared a week or so ago on the evening news. The camera showed a family who had taken to living on their upstairs deck while their neighborhood was flooded by the remnants of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The power had been out for days and the family was taking advantage of sunlight to read, work, cook, and dry their clothes. The mom was talking about her sons, who were unable to work at the computer or play video games; she gestured towards them and an image appeared of three young men sitting around a table playing an old-fashioned board game. Want to know the most amazing part? They were all smiling. In fact, they were talking and laughing, and looked like they were having a marvelous time.

I in no way want to downplay the loss and destruction suffered by those in the path of these storms; it's been a horrible experience and it will take a long time to rebuild some of these communities. But I was struck by an unexpected side-effect of the power outage: this family was all in one place, all connected to one another, and looking pretty happy about it.

What does this mean for your family, and for mine? Perhaps we should all declare a weekly "outage" and take a vacation from our technology. Maybe Sunday should be reserved for activities that require no electricity, no battery packs, things like board games and long walks and bicycle rides. And conversation, real conversation that doesn't involve texting. We could substitute emotion for emoticons. We could gaze at sunsets and clouds--and at each other. I think that one day a week of genuine connection could make a gigantic difference for most of the families I know. So here's an invitation: try it out and let me know what you discover.

| Posted by cheryl | Sunday, September 11, 2011|


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