In 2003, I was in New York City during the blackout. In 2003 there were 28.2 million broadband internet lines in the U.S. (1). By 2010, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 66% of American households had broadband internet access, that’s 76 million households, let alone small businesses and the like. Mobile use has increased from less than 50% to 91% in the same time frame. When our power went out, we went up to the roof of our Canal Street office and watched New Yorkers pouring up north out of Wall Street. That’s how we knew that something was “up.” Then we got a mobile phone call from someone’s brother in Buffalo who told us that the power was out up there as well. Then we really knew that something was “up.” And then the cell phones went out. We went outside and news was gathered by word of mouth, snippets of information gleaned together from folks in the street. People were gathered around portable radios and trying to find wired lines and pay phones that still worked.
Watching the reports of the 9.0 earthquake in Japan and the failure of 2 nuclear reactors and hearing about their planned blackouts had me thinking about electricity when I walked into a small coffee shop that offered free WiFi. I saw dozens of computers in this tiny shop and I realized how reliant we are on electricity. Our society is built upon electricity working. No one reads books or newspapers any more because we receive our information through devices. We don’t receive bills in the mail. We communicate with our friends through email and social networks. And that can sometimes work, a tweet I sent thinking of my friends in Japan was immediately answered, but what about when the power’s out?
I’ve never been a survivalist, but I live in California, so a certain amount of preparation seems to make sense. And now more than ever.