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Tuesday March 14, 2006 6:27 pm

Technology Is Wonderful - When It Works

Springfield Tornado

As you may or may not be aware, a severe storm ripped through the Midwest and caused an as-of-yet untotaled amount of damage, as well as personal injury and loss of life.  One such city, that in the past seemed immune to tornado-generating storms, is Springfield, Illinois, the state’s capital.

A pair of tornados ripped through the city late Sunday night, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.  At one point, most of the city was without power, and there are still areas where electrical service has not been restored (my house being one of those.)  Initially the lack of electricity didn’t appear to be a big deal till it became obvious that it was not coming back anytime soon.

With a lack of power comes a severing of technology-based information pathways.  No satellite television and no internet (therefore no VOIP) meant that my two main sources of information were as accessible as rocks from the moon.  In these modern times we often turn to wireless sources of information access, and that train of thought led me to track down my EDGE-enabled PDA (a Cingular 8125).  Firing up its web browser, I patiently waited for it to connect to the Internet.  And waited some more.  Eventually, after repeated attempts, it became apparent that no matter how often I cursed the little silver object, and no matter how hard I shook it in frustration, there was no miracle of connectivity forthcoming.

The world became a bit smaller at that point.  The neighbors were out chattering like a bunch of magpies about miscellaneous bits of news they had heard on the radio.  A radio…what a quaint idea.  Here’s a device that runs on batteries and receives its information wirelessly, and would have remained neglected in most cases.  The problem now became finding one of these seemingly antiquated little objects that didn’t require being plugged in, and wasn’t permanently attached to an automobile.  Wondrously my wife uncovered an emergency radio that her parents had given us for Christmas, and one which we had never given a second thought to when we received it.  Batteries, for our various gadgets, are in abundance at our house hand and in no time at all, the small white box was delivering news and information. 

The desire for more knowledge than the radio could deliver didn’t end.  Although I had Vonage set up and running, procrastination on my part meant the switchover from POTS to VOIP never took place.  They had continued running happily in unison until the power went away.  Suddenly that plain old telephone service was the only thread of connectivity to friends and loved ones.  Never mind the ever present cell phone as service on it had stopped working when the power went out (service did come back on a short time later though.)  Our cordless phones continued to work until the battery backup in the base station gave up the ghost.  The kitchen phone, the only corded one in the house, garnered more use than it had in months.

As things currently stand, my home office that is full of wonderful gadgets and gizmos, with their little LEDs normally blinking happily away, sits dark, quiet and almost tomb-like by comparison to just a short while ago.  It looks as though the only useful things in it that don’t require power are a few pieces of paper from the printer and a random assortment of pens and pencils.  Do people really use those things?

Technology is wonderful, when it works, and it will be welcomed with open arms when it returns.  Until then, that little radio has earned a reprieve from a dark corner in the basement, and the POTS line that was once

minutes days

weeks (depending on my level of procrastination) away from replacement by VOIP, will remain in use for the foreseeable future.

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