On June 7, blogger stopped working. The outage was longer than just a couple of hours. It was long enough, in fact, for people who depend on blogger to, well, blog, to start to freak out. At microblogging site Twitter, a rising note of alarm started to creep into posts that went like this: “Is anybody else having trouble getting blogger to work?” It got worse as the outage persisted, and people who have made updating their blogs part of their daily routines suddenly couldn’t communicate with their readers.
As much as we might be tempted to dismiss bloggers as basement-dwelling loners engaged in the Internet equivalent of talking to themselves, it’s a fact that a great many people get their news from and spend time communicating with a network of bloggers who use public and commercial blogging sites (rather than their own websites). It was one of them, John Kubicek, who first brought the blogger.com outage to my attention. John maintains a popular conservative blog in which he summarizes major news events and links to various conservative and libertarian columns.
“See the panic?” John wrote to me. “PANIC? Like the end of the world kind of thing? It can be more than just annoying when technology fails. Think fishing and shrimping in the Gulf. People who depend on technology are affected by failures sometimes for their livelihood, and it can be devastating.”
I thought about that for a long time. Mr. Kubicek quite rightly points out that when a major piece of our technological world goes awry, it can affect us to the point of destroying our jobs and our lives. The oil leak still raging in the Gulf is one of the best examples. Technology intended to prevent an accident of this kind completely failed, triggering week after week of finger pointing, excuses and failed attempts at solutions – all while the Obama administration refused to take the problem seriously.
In only too typical fashion, Obama is more concerned with covering his own posterior while mouthing vulgar, contrived comments calculated to make him look tough. The problem in this case, of course, is that pencil-necked bureaucrats known for their stilted public speaking voices and their nagging tendency to apologize for America at every conceivable turn can rarely affect a street-tough image that anyone finds believable.
Dukakis rode a tank, the expression on his face making him look slack-jawed and simple underneath his ridiculous helmet. John Kerry put a shotgun over his shoulder, as if we’d believe he’s an avid hunter who wouldn’t do his best to ban your guns. The mediocre-at-best George W. Bush wore a flight suit and landed on an aircraft carrier, ludicrously declaring accomplished a mission that grinds on killing our soldiers to this day. And now Barack Hussein Obama, the man whose masterful manipulation of modern media prompted us to dub him our technology dictator, has taken to the airwaves threatening to kick someone’s behind, as if we’ll believe he’s a passionate fighter for truth and justice and not simply a brittle, defensive, incompetent tyrant.
Technology brought us imagery of these failures. Technology was used by these men in their attempts to spin their failures and their flaws into some false belief on the part of voters that such men could or should be trusted. As we’ve learned only too well watching the devastation in the Gulf, however, technology can collapse at any moment, leaving us to discover just how dependent we have become in relying on something that is fundamentally not reliable.
What’s the longest you’ve ever gone without power? In 1998, a derecho (a violent straight-line wind storm) knocked out the power to my city. Over the next three days, my desperation grew as hour after grueling hour without power, without hot water, without the ability to cook the majority of food in the kitchen, without a freezer to preserve that food, without any form of entertainment that was not battery-powered AM radio, without any light at night that did not come from the flashlights I had sprinkled throughout the house, took its toll on my patience. I started calling home whenever I was not present, hoping against hope that the answering machine would pick up, indicating that power was restored. After three days of this, when I finally heard my own digital voice on the other end of the line, the message I left was incomprehensible. I was too busy blubbering with delight that this long weekend’s sojourn into primitive living was finally over.
In 2003, I was in traffic when I realized that many of the street lights I was passing under did not have power. I switched the radio from music to news … and my local AM station was off the air. It was only two years after Sept. 11, and immediately my thoughts (as well as the thoughts of many around me) turned to fears of a terrorist strike against the power grid. When I tried to make a wireless phone call to check on a family member, the entire wireless network was down. I started to panic.
The reality of the 2003 Northeast Blackout was more mundane … and perhaps more disturbing. The cascade failure of the power grid, which some parties tried to blame on Canada, underscored the relative fragility of the energy network on which we all depend so strongly. A single point of failure can, under the right conditions, become a catastrophic outage, plunging thousands and even millions of people into more than darkness. To lose power is not just to lose light, but to lose heating, cooling, communication and entertainment. In short, when technology fails, it fails us in every facet of our day-to-day lives. When we and our neighbors experience such a failure at the same time, panic, conflict and injury or death are not far behind.
The time to prepare is before technology fails. You depend on technology; we all do. How you cope with its failure is your choice … and your responsibility.