AT RANDOM: Lights out

At first it didn’t bother me that much when the power went off in the storm Monday night.

At first it didn’t bother me that much when the power went off in the storm Monday night.

Since I have no television or computer I would not even have noticed for awhile if I had not been talking on the phone and it suddenly went dead. Since I had mentioned the storm, I assumed my caller, who was far away, would not be offended by the sudden cut off and would get back to me later.

I picked up my book and went back to reading outside, telling myself that I could listen to music when it got too dark to read, then I realized that no music was going to happen without electricity. Again, no modern portable devices, so there I was in the dark. The book was a mystery and I just had to finish it so I lit a candle and got to the end.

Then I took my dog for a walk in the dusk. The streets were strangely and pleasantly quiet, with candles and lanterns visible on some porches and patios. Solar lights lit gardens here and there.

I had a bath while the water was still hot and while I missed the fan in the bedroom, it was comfortably dark without the street light shining in. I hoped no one was going to take advantage of the power outage for some looting and pillaging anywhere but the alarms are on batteries for these occasions and I didn’t hear about any incidents later. I wondered if the hospital was in the affected area but felt reassured that it would have an emergency generator to carry on.

I remembered a time a few years ago when the power was out and I had to drive across town. Drivers responded sensibly by treating intersections with no working lights as four-way stops and multi-lanes of traffic moved smoothly, at least as well as with lights because everyone was considerate.

Then I thought about how life had carried on around the world for centuries without electricity, homes and cathedrals built, families raised, crops harvested, wars fought, travels undertaken by the brave, curious or pursued.

While I would not want to live without the conveniences made possible by electricity, I know it is possible. It was and still is for many people. I grew up in a rural area where we still had clean clothes, a warm home and light to read at night. Everyone, especially the women, worked harder physically then.

It was impossible not to think about the new electricity meters. I have heard a lot about them and I am not sure what is true and what is not. I don’t know what it would be like if my power could be disrupted by something going amiss hundreds or even thousands of miles away at some unknown location.

When the problem is as visible as a tree down over a power line, we know that local, knowledgeable crews can be at the scene to get the power restored as quickly and safely as possible. I don’t like to think about being left in the dark and silence some time in the future with no idea of what happened or when it might be fixed. Our society simply could not function with a prolonged and/or widespread power outage.

I guess I don’t like the idea, and it does seem, at least in my small technology theory world, that something like this could happen, of the power being taken over by groups or individuals for their own purposes, as could be done by computer. Or, more subtly, and more probably, of power being controlled and manipulated by unregulated forces for profit or influence.

Yes, I am fearful, as many people are, maybe with no reason, because with all the information there is no way to know what to believe. Having so much information has made us smart enough to know that we can’t believe everything we hear but left us with no way to be certain about anything.

We are told that now our electricity is managed by a government-regulated company which should provide some accountability. At a time when we are being advised to look more to our local economy for everything from food to transportation, a basic utility seems to be slipping away from local oversight.

On Monday night, it was obvious that the power outage was related to the storm and past experience said that it was fixable and that local people knew what had happened and would deal with it, as they had done ably in the past.

I am one small power user, I don’t use much and I try to use it wisely but I want it to be there when I need it for a hot bath or cool coconut yoghurt. A short outage due to understandable causes is something to be dealt with, an unavoidable necessity at times. Life is like that.

—Cara Brady is a reporter for The Morning Star