By James Strauss
On Saturday morning at around 9:30, the power failed. A transformer located somewhere on the east side of town failed, and the entire city was thrown into disorganized disarray. Saturday morning traffic was just beginning to build up, and people were already walking the streets waiting for the retailers to open their stores, most of whom start doing business at ten a.m. Life did not stop. However, by ten a.m. most of the retailers weren’t open for business, although some were open. There was no ‘business’ because there was no electricity to light the lights; run the credit card machines; registers or even the telephone. Traffic did not stop moving, though. Almost all the traffic lights in downtown Lake Geneva have stop signs that are shuttered on each pole, when the lights are doing their job. When the lights stopped working the stop signs were immediately unfolded and brought into play.
Besides cars, the most important thing that didn’t stop working was the social order. People were nonplussed at first, but soon got used to the fact that nothing much was happening or likely to happen, with respect to anything that ran on hard-wired electricity, but that didn’t mean everything else had to come to a stop. The coffee shops had tons of still hot coffee and other drinks to sell, and even packaged foods that would not spoil for some time in the future.
After the first hour, a strange phenomenon began to make itself felt all around the downtown. People started gathering together in clumps to talk about the situation. Soon those discussions, lacking any factual data to act on, turned to other areas. Without electricity there was this new energy born out of necessity. People power. People talking and working together. Social power seemed to step in to replace the physical power that was lost when the electricity failed.
Eventually the power came back on and everything returned to the way it was. Social distance returned with the electricity, and the change was instantaneous. Conversations ended in mid-sentence. People who’d just gathered out of necessity turned away, openly celebrating the return of power, and immediately went their own ways. New friends were forgotten with the speed of necessity. The speed at which modern first world cultures move is only measurable when it all comes to a screeching halt.
Are things moving too fast? That relative question will always be answered differently depending upon who is asked. The retailers who’d opened their stores at ten a.m., only to find that they could do no business, would certainly argue that the slowing down of almost all commerce and movement was bad. On the other hand, some retired citizens sitting inside Geneva Java or Starbucks coffee shops, having become engaged with distressed visitors, stopping by because there was nowhere else to go, definitely would argue that the power outage inspired new connections, and that was a good thing.
High technology in the modern era is taking humanity to places it cannot possibly predict, and its taking humanity there without the permission of different segments of that species. How could people heading west in Conestoga wagons powered by horses or oxen only a hundred and fifty years ago, ever have predicted cars that automatically drive themselves? They couldn’t, any more than people today can predict where cell phone and internet technology will advance in a hundred and fifty years in the future. That inability to predict also means that there will be only be a limited ability to influence the future. People riding horses did not want to give them up to drive cars. People today do not want to give up driving cars and allow them to drive themselves. Neither evolvement could, or can, be stopped unless by some great cataclysm not worth being discussed here. Humans do not easily give up things of comfort from the past. Old men continue to pay many thousands of dollars for old sixties muscle cars from their youth (that never ran well even when they were new) because of the positive memories associated with those cars. With rare exceptions, young people don’t care about those cars. And it isn’t just those old men. All of us cling to the known, the familiar.
Evolution, and survival of the fittest, did not equip mankind well for huge technological advancement, and the reason is very easy to understand. Mankind has been prowling around the environs of planet earth for more than three and a half million years. Modern technology is the product of less than two hundred years of that time. When new technology fails, humans are thrown back to using survival skills that their genetic structure still possesses, albeit mostly hidden away inside. Tribalism surges forward in times of disconnected trouble. When the power went out the people who gathered throughout Lake Geneva were thrown back in time, and they found that the places and time they were thrown into was warm and comforting. But warm and comforting is not where and how human life is lived today, unless that condition can be understood, shared with others around us, and then implemented. People unknown to one another don’t assemble easily, because the speed of technological life today is blinding, as well as mostly deaf and often dumb.
Take the time to meet those around you, and see if you can be the central spark to ignite some social warmth and comfort for yourself and those people around you. Don’t wait for the power to fail.
Be the power.
~ James Strauss