I'm writing this blog post from a Starbucks just outside of Richmond at around 8pm on Tuesday, August 30th. In 15 minutes or so, my home will have been without power for 80 hours. That's not a typo. 80 hours. Our community was hit hard by Irene on Saturday, and large parts of the area are still struggling to get back to normal.
I normally consider myself to be something of a digital nomad. I'm almost always on the go, my trusty MacBook Air tucked neatly and securely into my backpack, along with all of the essentials - external hard drive, USB modem, plenty of thumb drives, and so on.
But this storm, and the power outage that resulted from it, has turned me into something of a digital refugee.
And I'm not alone. If you walk into just about any local cafe or coffee shop in the area (Panera Bread, Starbucks, B&N, etc), you'll find other digital refugees. They have the same panicked look in their eyes. They've got their notebooks and power bricks in hand, as they look nervously for an open power outlet. The Starbucks that I'm writing from, while mostly and surprisingly empty (it's a small one), has but one power outlet available to customers, and sure enough, two other customers are plugged into it. I'm plugged into an extension cable that someone has run into the back of the store. I'm a lucky one, I guess.
Throughout this ordeal, I've had several thoughts and emotions. If someone had been reading my mind over these past few days, they'd surely think I was bonkers. And I think they'd be right. I'm losing it.
What surprised me about all of this is how absolutely reliable so many of us are on technology. Whether that reliance is real (meaning, your life and/or business depends on it) or imagined (meaning, you're just addicted to it all) or not doesn't matter much. The reality is that we are now a digital society, and whether we know it or not, we're vulnerable.
We have very cool, very powerful tools that we can take with us - things that we couldn't even have imagined in the not so distant past. Smart phones. Notebooks. iPads and other tablets. These are truly amazing, empowering tools that we have.
But our Achilles’ heel seems to be energy. We've all had the batteries on our devices die on us, I'm sure. And while devices like the iPad and the newer MacBook Airs have amazing battery life, at the end of the day, we still need to charge them up. No matter how cool our devices are, without power, they are reduced to nothing more than expensive paperweights.
Maybe we have two Achilles’ heels. The other would be reliable, affordable wireless Internet connections. In the rare times that I can connect to the net using my USB modem or my iPad's cell connection, the connection has been terribly unreliable.
I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this... Maybe the long days and nights as a digital refugee are catching up with me. All I can tell you is that we need to find ways to fix these types of problems. Otherwise, all of us will be digital refugees at some point.