Our Dependence on Technology

by Vicky Paz, SUNY Cortland, April 23, 2008

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Take a minute to think about the life you live today. Could you picture yourself without everyday “necessities,” such as electricity, purified water, your computer, cell phone, cordless house phone, automobile, or even traffic lights in the street?

I came to this realization, of just how much our lives rely on technology, the day of the blackout that hit New York and several other cities in August of 2003. I was sixteen years old, a month shy of entering my junior year in high school. It was a disgustingly hot, humid, sticky summer afternoon when I walked over to visit my grandmother’s house, a few blocks from mine in Staten Island. Beads of sweat dripped down my face as I rushed through my grandmother’s front door, begging her to pump up the AC. Several minutes later, the power went out. The lights came to a halt, the image on the television suddenly morphed into an empty, black screen, and to my dismay, the air conditioning ceased to comfort my sunburn. I thought to myself, “Damn it! What a great time for the fuse to blow!” and proceeded to check the circuit breaker box, flicking every switch, only to be disappointed. “Maybe it will just come back on its own in a bit,” my grandma said. So we waited.

One hour and several paper fans later, my grandma and I started to worry. Why didn’t the power come back yet? We thought that perhaps the whole borough went out, and decided to turn on the battery-operated AM/FM radio we were fortunate enough to have in order to find out. It turned out that twenty-one power plants shut down in a matter of four minutes, causing a major power outage that hit parts of New York, New Jersey, Canada, Michigan, Ohio and other areas. The result? Pure chaos.

At that immediate point, the devastation of no air conditioning was my only main concern. It was bad enough that there was no cool air circulating throughout the house, but we couldn’t even plug in a fan! The sweltering heat radiated throughout the house until sundown. We left the windows open in an attempt to cool ourselves off, if we were even lucky enough to be embraced by any breeze on that hot, still, and horrid day.

After a few hours, I grew bored. Extremely bored. Instinctively, I walked over to the computer desk to use the Internet. Just as I was about to hit the power button, I reluctantly remembered that we had no electricity. I hadn’t done arts and crafts since I was a young child, but we were so bored stiff that my grandma and I ended up constructing and painting a spacious little wooden birdhouse, which I’m sure was cooler and more comfortable than the sticky one we were sitting in all day. I shouldn’t have complained, though. Conditions throughout the city were much worse.

Traffic jams plagued the boroughs. People were trapped in elevators and underground subway cars. Michigan’s water system was devastated, as its water was filtered and distributed through electric pumps. Many were shoplifting everything in sight now that the security detectors couldn’t function. Others frantically picked up the phone to call their families, only to immediately realize that it was cordless and depended on electricity. People panicked, in fear of the blackout being a terrorist threat, and no one had a newsflash dominating their television sets or their “Welcome Screen” on AOL to tell them otherwise. People did, however, rely on their cell phones until their batteries died, or if they were lucky enough to eventually stop hearing the never-ending, broken-record of a message: “All circuits are busy. Please try your call again."

The power didn’t return to my area until dawn the next morning. It had only been less than half a day that we had gone without electricity, and it wasn’t until that time that many, including myself, realized how much we take the way we live for granted.
Electricity is literally our source of life. Whether it is as simple as we females fashioning our hair with straightening and curling irons, or men regularly using electric shavers and power drills, keeping food fresh in our refrigerators, or as complicated as traffic lights controlling street obstruction, purifying our water, providing means of mass communication, or keeping hospital patients alive on a respirator, they all depend one that one source: electricity.

Today is the Golden Age of technology, an empire run by electricity as its king, that only seems to improve day after day. There once was a time when record players were the “newest thing,” but were then replaced by cassette players, which were replaced by compact discs, which were replaced by iPods, which have just recently been replaced by smaller and even more efficient and colorful ones. Can and will it get any better than this? What else can they possibly come up with? Without electricity, the most powerful and dominant monarch in this world, none of the aforementioned would be able to function, nor could any future advances be made.

Our dependence on power and transmission lines makes the United States more susceptible to security and terrorist threats. Within our nation, there are approximately 500,000 miles of power lines that provide us with one of the most valued sources of living. With so many lengthy lines to look over, and constant additions being made, it is a challenge to efficiently monitor and protect each and every one of them against a variety of possible threats, such as the system breakdowns we experienced on that frenzied day in 2003.

While technology eases the lives of those fortunate enough to live in the world today, it also weakens us. Don’t get me wrong; you won’t find me donning black and white, milking cows in Amish country anytime soon. I love the benefits that technology gives to everyday living, but it degrades our population to become so dependent upon this very source. If everything we have become so accustomed to were to permanently disappear tomorrow, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves, just as those affected by the temporary malfunction of technology on the day of the blackout hadn’t. Imagine living a life as simplistic as people had prior to the days of serious technological advancement, when lighting was provided by flickering candle flames and beams of sunlight. Think you could do it for more than half of a day?

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