It’s not all technology…

by MichaelF on February 02, 2007 08:00pm

If you live on the eastside in the greater Seattle area, you may be among the million-plus people who were out of power during the massive windstorm last month. As Bill Hilf pointed out in his previous blog “what matters” (see blog),  these are rare intermissions which allow us to step back and understand what sets us apart as “intelligent” beings. After reading Bill’s blog, I started pondering over the role that technology plays in our daily life and my reaction is that this role is a bit too exaggerated. Why you may ask - well, let’s see: it took the million plus people spread across all over the eastside neighborhoods, close to nine days before power was fully restored all over. A lot of us took the time and caught up on chores we had been putting off for a while, some of us shared childhood stories around a fireplace and talked about things that sat underneath the surface, suppressed by constant engagement with a laptop or an MP3 player. Unfortunately, there were also a handful of others who didn’t make it through this trying time and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We talk a lot about “technology” here on Port25 and being involved with Port25 gave me a perfect opportunity to draw parallels in what I was experiencing and comparing it to the “hype” about the “advancement” of technology and how it has improved the quality of life. Making a radical shift here, let’s at least agree on a simple fact that without an “evolved” attitude, these advancements will and cannot replace the “self introspection” we all need to do from time to time. The power outage was a perfect time for that, a time that made us all realize that there is a larger reality out there which we should never be oblivious of. We need to acknowledge that to fully understand and take-in the benefits that technology has already given us rather putting our mind to think about “Bigger, Better, Faster, More”.

So is technology bad – NO ..HELL NO!! Just because we can text messages to others, while listening to our collection of 10,000 songs on MP3 and driving an electronically controlled, fuel injected vehicle, let’s NOT make the assumption that playing around with a few gadgets has made us a better person. Let’s examine this more closely, shall we, and try to truly comprehend the role technology played when we were all sitting without power:

1.  Abstinence: No matter how juiced up my MP3 player was or how many extra battery packs I had for my laptop, by Day 3, I was probably staring at a cozy fireplace wondering what my life was like before High-Definition football broadcasts and movies streaming through extenders. For many of the folks who put their comments on local newspaper and blogging sites later, this was a “revelation”. My question at this stage was “Gee…there’s very little technology in this present moment, isn't there ?”

2.  Chaos: I remember, it was our second day without power and we were driving through a major traffic intersection in Downtown Bellevue. As we drove past a gas station, we saw police cruisers on both sides of the entrance to the gas station with troopers standing guard w/ guns. Later someone told us that fights had broken out at the gas station as people started to cut each other off and next thing you know, it was chaos. I was also told that in a grocery store, they ran out of bottled water and tempers flared between those who had bought crates of water and those who were left without any to buy. So my question again “would any type of technology or device have truly helped the situations here in some way”……NO, not without us taking a more civil, educated and an more evolved approach

3.  Awareness: As hundreds of thousands of people tried to cope with loss of power, in the middle of December, all sorts of stories were emerging on how people survived. My boss, for instance, was left with no choice but to use construction grade wood and cut it into 2x4’s for his fireplace to keep his kids warm. Others resorted to picking up downed trees and gathering them for burning wood. A lot of folks flew or drove out to other towns to their friends and relatives who did have power. All through this a thought kept gnawing at me repeatedly, and does so even today. I thought “We live in one of the most technologically aware, literate and advanced places in the US and it takes DAYS to restore power ???”. With every passing hour I kept reflecting back to my days in IT Operations where outages were measured up to three decimal points. I got a chuckle out of thinking back and wondering what “metrics” could be applied to this situation, I guess the curve is really messed up now…. ***. And guess what “there’s no technology anywhere in sight unless you lived in the Seattle downtown area, which wasn’t affected”

4.  Fragile Infrastructure: I was also compelled to ask myself and those who had been living here for longer than me, if this is how fragile our infrastructure really is. After using my daughter’s stash of quarters from her piggy bank (no joke), I drove by a pay-phone not too far from my house twice a day and checked the status w/ the power company to get an estimate on when we could see the lights coming back on. This is no exaggeration, no matter how many times I called, I ALWAYS got a different answer. This led me to think about technology in a the context of the power company. A few random thoughts that followed were:

    • What type of grid-management technology are they using to keep tabs on what grids are working and which ones are down ?
    • What type of communications technology are they using internally since no one had one consistent answer about power restoration ?
    • What type of technology is helping them to bring the power lines back up ?
    • And MOST importantly, what type of technology will they use to avert or be prepare for such a disaster in the future ?

So did I get the answers I was looking for, nope. Did I learn a lot of lessons on how to be prepared for an emergency – you betcha. And as far as my curiosity on the role of technology in power restoration process, no one would answer my questions and I can understand to some degree. But I’m still curious as to what role technology adoption would have played in this scenario. Whether a specific technology, if adopted pre-emptively or post-incident, could have made this less cumbersome and trying for everyone. Are they using the right technology for the right job ? Are they fully aware of the potential of technology and the possibilities ?

In the end, I came to a simple realization which was…it's not all technology…there’s MUCH more to life and to our existence...

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