Ever find yourself off the grid for a couple weeks, away from all forms of normal communication? Not the kind where you go hiking with expectations of returning later in the day or week. Even then, you probably had a cell phone with you.
I grew up in a time of rotary telephones that only needed five numbers to dial. Making calls in a remote hamlet of New Hampshire required operator assistance. It was the age of letters … you know, that form of communication that required penmanship, paper, and pen. Mail didn’t zip electronically through servers, real humans with the Postal Service walked neighborhoods to deliver it. GPS back then was called a compass. Get caught without access to a phone or two-way radio, and you could get really lost … signal fire or message-in-a-bottle lost.
Let’s face it, many of us go ape-shit when cell signal is lost, bang keyboards when the internet goes down. Adolescents enter that special cranky state when cable or satellite goes blank with, “no signal available,” and how does anyone make it through the day without texting?
It isn’t so much what would happen if it all went down, like the popular dystopian TV show, Revolution. It’s how you’d handle it. How would you feel?
I recently spent two weeks in Nicaragua with some family members at a newly built beach house on the Pacific coast, far from the capital city of Managua. Local cell service existed if you could speak Spanish. Internet is spotty but available … in-between frequent brownouts. My cheap cell phone didn’t have international access and I chose not to rent a local cell phone (because I’m cheap and who would I call in Nicaragua). At the only bar nearby with internet access, my laptop had issues speaking the same digital lingo (it might have been the dozen rum drinks I had trying to make it work). Nursing a first class hangover next day, I decided the purpose of my visit was to regale in the splendor of third world sandy beaches and pacific sunsets.
It didn’t take long for withdrawal symptoms to set in. Fingers twitched involuntarily, as if searching for something to type. Fitful nights, separated from emergency calls in case something happened to my daughter or if my house burned down. What about all the unanswered email? Will social media followers drop me? Did Andrea escape from the Governor in Walking Dead?
All very silly of course, and after a week, the need to feed my media addiction faded. Archived memories of a time when RF signals didn’t typhoon through our body organs like electron poltergeists, had me sigh with longing. Absent the perpetual distraction of media input, my senses had room to feel the silence of where we were (except when howler monkeys went into heat … several times a week). Story plots found pen and paper, like the old days. Still, I knew it was temporary, and I’d be back in the grid soon. It had me wondering. What if going off the grid became permanent.
Skip the fantasy of people joyfully embracing the old days. Initial chaos is my bet, at least it’s the way we write it with dystopian story lines. Complete loss of communication fifty years ago would have been limited to radio, phone, and three channels of television, and even then, a fearful thing. Today, going cold turkey, with no hope of it returning? It’s enough to hole up in a basement or attic, wondering if grandpa’s ham radio still works, so we can find out if the world is ending.
What do you think? Blessing or a curse?