Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Living WITHOUT Technology

On Monday 29 October, Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast, including Westport.

For most of the town — over 90 percent — power went out early evening. And the power stayed out for days. In fact, five days after Sandy hit, easily 60 percent of the town was still without power.

So what was it like to live without the modern conveniences?

Relatively speaking, Westport was lucky. While many homes were damaged or destroyed, we did not receive the devastation that many communities in New York and New Jersey did.

Nevertheless, most of the town lost one of its basic utilities: Electricity.

Without electricity, when the sun goes down, the house is dark. Very dark. Batteries in flashlights only last so long.

Without electricity, it's hard to heat one's home. Even if your home runs on fuel oil, it takes electricity to circulate the hot water that results from the burners.

Without electricity, one's computers don't work. Even the batteries on laptop computers last typically no more than five hours. If the computers do work, it's hard to do much without Internet access nowadays.

Without electricity, if you have a well with a pump, you don't have water for bathing or cooking.

In talking to people, the overwhelming utility that people needed was electricity.

What surprised me, though, was that the second utility people wanted was Internet access. Forget phone service, forget television. With the Internet, people could connect to the world — and each other.

While on my block, we lost our power for six days, yet our cable TV/Internet service was never disrupted. Because of our generator being able to keep our cable modem and home networking running, we were connected to the world — and even provided WiFi to some of our neighbors.

The Westport Public Library continued its tradition of providing a great resource for people who were looking for a few basic services: Electricity and Internet access. A warm place to stay was also nice, but the week's moderate temperatures meant that keeping warm was not one of the immediate necessities.

While the need for food, shelter and water continue to be high on everyone's list of basic needs, what has surprised me is how high Internet access has become. Even our first responders are using Internet service to communicate to the community about status updates, emergency services, where to go for needs one has. The Internet truly has become a utility.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 7 November 2012.

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