Will I miss the Internet and the host of online communities wherein I’ve embedded myself via social media outlets? Can I function in a world without the ability to connect to my virtual universe?
Since we live and breathe electronic products and virtual worlds every day, I never paused to think about such questions. But, I would soon find the answers to these queries, whether I wanted to or not.
On Monday, October 29, 2012, my family of six was ready for Hurricane Sandy (a.k.a. Frankenstorm Sandy, Superstorm Sandy), a massive storm whose wrath would be felt by so many folks all over the East Coast.
Heeding the advance warnings from weathermen, media and government officials, my family and I had lots of bottled water and nonperishable food items stocked away. We had the requisite flashlights, candles, matches, radios, batteries and plastic disposable candle lighters filled with the precious fluid we’d need in case our matches failed us. Our phones and computers were charged to their full capacities. We even tidied up our home and did all our laundry, so we’d have a nice comfy place to ride out Hurricane Sandy.
As a treat, and mostly because she wanted to test out a brownie cookbook I just gifted her, one of my daughters, the baker of the bunch, even finished making fresh batches of two brownie flavors.
After enjoying slices of homemade veggie pizza and heaping portions of beef stew—complete with potatoes, carrots and the trimmings, we settled in front of our computer monitor to watch reruns of “The Neighbors”, “Modern Family” and “Once Upon a Time” on Hulu.com before heading off to bed.
Soon, our living room was filled with a healthy dose of giggles and gales of laughter as we watched the first two shows and munched on our brownies. We gasped and held our breath as we anticipated what Emma Swan, Snow and the gang might experience in the company of Captain Hook in “Once Upon a Time”. Then, in a flash, in between our guffaws, our monitor went dark and there was a momentary bout of silence. We looked at each other, dumbfounded—unprepared for the darkness that cloaked our living room and whole home in a nanosecond.
“Whoa,” my eldest daughter said, confused.
“What happened?” asked another.
“Is the computer screen broken?” said the third.
My husband looked around the room, puzzled. Then he glanced towards the window, and realized the buildings around us had nary a light, unusual for Manhattan.
Following his gaze, I looked at our windows, too. “Uh-oh. Blackout,” I said to the kids. Whoa, Sandy!
My husband went to our fuse box just to be sure, and opened our apartment door to check our hallway. We concluded that the whole building must be in darkness, a sure sign of a blackout. We could hear nearby tenants talking, sounding as confused as we were just moments ago.
Anticipating that I’d eventually lose my cellphone service, I snapped a picture of my kids with flashlights under their faces for a spooky pre-Halloween photo. I immediately shared it with my Facebook friends announcing we had just lost power. Like wildfire, a number of them “liked” the photo and prayed for our safety. I was touched by the fast replies—the instant magic of social media.
That photo and my one reply to all who posted their concern were the last posts I’d be sharing on my Facebook profile page for nearly a week. I posted because I wanted to reassure my family and friends that we were okay, so far. While my phone was fully charged, the cell towers might soon stop sending out signals. Who knew when I’d be posting again?
Pages Gone Dark…What to Do?
From Monday, October 29 to the wee hours of Saturday, November 3, my Facebook page was static. The inability to access my FB wall or Twitter feed was as eerie to me as the sight of the darkened island of Lower Manhattan was to everyone who viewed it from television screens, in parts unaffected by Hurricane Sandy. The City that never sleeps looked like it was in a deep, peaceful slumber—hibernating while the superstorm ravished the island, causing the Hudson River to overflow from its west, and gush into the pit where One World Trade Center is being rebuilt at Ground Zero. Meanwhile, the East River spilled over the east side of the Big Apple. Manhattan was assaulted from both sides, and the effects would be felt for days (weeks for many folks).
As my family and I grew accustomed to darkened rooms and the coldness that we wouldn’t have noticed had we our usual automated timed cycles of heat, we developed a routine, filled with what became our roster of daily activities. We also learned to take our flashlights with us wherever we went.
For five days, board games that aren’t played with often enough when laptops are operational suddenly became part of our go-to arsenal against boredom. Our activities included tidying up our rooms a bit more. Books that my kids had outgrown were stacked in knee-high piles ready to be donated to the next gently used books drive at their schools. My girls buried themselves into books they had already read but wished to travel into once again. My eldest daughter and I started flexing our creative muscles as we worked on our ideas, plots and outlines for NaNoWriMo. She was preparing for her first foray into the Young Writers Program for NaNoWriMo, and she was full of questions and ideas.
During the first two days of our interlude with darkness, I found myself reaching for my cellphone quite often, wanting to capture my kids at play via the built-in camera. I flung silent curses at Sandy for keeping me from my virtual buddies. I desperately wanted to post a photo or update my status on my Facebook wall. I’d catch myself, realizing that I couldn’t do anything, all the while wondering what posts or tweets I was missing in the virtual world.
I mentally cursed Sandy again. To no avail, of course, as Sandy roared and wailed outside through Monday night and all day Tuesday, sending scaffolding and cranes perched atop tall buildings to the streets. Directly across from one of our windows was a scaffolding that fell from a higher building onto the rooftop of another, many stories below.
While we were stuck in the comforts of our world at home, we didn’t have a total grasp of how bad things were for so many others, more adversely affected by Sandy. We got bits of news via our battery-powered radio, but the signals were pretty spotty and we wanted to conserve the battery. At about 11 a.m., each day, we briefly turned it on for updates regarding the status of the public schools, which were closed for the week.
Meanwhile, water rushed and covered many streets, including Chambers and West streets in Lower Manhattan, as well as those in other areas throughout the five boroughs. Water overtook the 108-year-old subway system where stations like South Ferry (No. 1 train stop downtown) were ceiling high with water.
My camera phone wasn’t getting any signal so I couldn’t check my email, FB page or Twitter feed. Nor could I text anyone. It soon ran low on battery juice (perhaps from my attempts to get a signal). I sighed, frustrated. So many things were beyond my control.
Thankfully the kids stayed in good spirits, making our dark days and nights bearable. While I couldn’t access the online world, which included close friends and beloved family members, I soon decided that right in my apartment were those most precious to me, anyway. I joined my kids in a couple of rounds of Monopoly, and relished our five days and nights sans power, chatting and bonding with them. We actually enjoyed our time together, something we miss now that we’re all back to our hectic schedules.
Let There Be Light…
With weary eyes, my husband and I both noticed partially lit buildings around us, at about 4:50 a.m. on Saturday, November 3. The significance of the brightness from afar escaped us for a few moments.
“Hey, that building has lights,” said my husband, bolting up from our bed. He rushed to our bedroom window, parted the shade, looked out and glanced back at me with a boyish smile.
“Yeah, look,” he replied, motioning for me to take a peek.
Noticing the lights in the nearby buildings, I soon wore an equally huge smile. What did I do next after I hugged him with excitement? Well, I walked over to my bedside table and grabbed my cellphone, of course. He had recharged it partially the other day at a streetside pop-up charging station, so I knew I should have enough juice to snap a photo and post on my FB wall. After all, some folks were wondering how we were faring, so I had a duty to share the news.
About an hour or two later (when most everyone else awoke), FB buddies had given the photo their thumbs up, and welcomed us back to the grid. I’m once again amazed at social media’s virtual power and magic.
Since we got our power back, my fingers have happily tapped away on my keyboard, welcoming and thanking many new Twitter followers and FB likes on our fan page. I’ve tweeted and shared photos and my thoughts.
However, as we begin to relish and embrace the comforts and complexities of 21st Century technology again, I can’t help but feel a tad bit nostalgic of the semi-simplistic life we led during our short bout without power. Our five days and nights spent in the dark were uncomfortable and inconvenient in many respects. I wouldn’t wish the discomfort upon anyone. Nor would I opt to go through it again. However, I have to admit that forcing us to live without any electronic devices caused us to get back to engaging in a more basic, genuine and wholehearted manner. We really laughed, joked and enjoyed each other’s company. Yes, we also briefly battled the restlessness of cabin fever.
While we, along with many others, were greatly inconvenienced by Hurricane Sandy, I know that my family and I are fortunate. We were stuck in our own home, had clean clothes with which to layer to stay warm, a working gas stove for our meals, trickles of cold water in our faucet, food and lots of bottled water. We had each other.
We’ve basically resumed our normal routines. Schools are open. For the most part, mass transit is operating. The nor’easter that hit our area midday yesterday, November 7, brought some sleet, rain and blustery winds of 60 mph. Since our commute throughout the day was ultra messy, a part of me was afraid of what I’d discover the next morning. But, to my relief, I awoke to find we still had electricity. Unfortunately many others, who just got their power, lost it again.
Editorial Creatives extends our thoughts and prayers to all those along the eastern seaboard who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy and the nor’easter. We’ll soon be featuring details on some nonprofits that are at the forefront of offering disaster relief throughout NYC and NJ. In the meantime, please stay safe, warm and dry.