As I write this I’m sitting in an airplane, flying across the country. I can’t help but think of William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition, in which the coolhunting main character, Cayce Pollard, expresses that jet travel causes one’s soul to be left behind, connected by a thin wire. What you experience then then is caused by your soul floating behind you, slowly being pulled back to your body. It’s a poetic image for me, imagining all those strings in the air, although one Gibson expresses much better in text than I do.
As is required, my cell phone and iPad are in airplane mode. I’m cut off from the world (so I’ll be off the airplane by the time you’re reading this). Yes, this flight has WiFi, but I’ve chosen not to use it. It’s an interesting parallel to early last week, when airplane mode wasn’t optional for me.
You see, Huricane Irene hit New York a week or so ago, and thousands of people lost power for some time. Thankfully, I wasn’t among them. No, I had lights and computers and hot water, but my cable service was offline for four days. It’s an odd state – you know when your power is out that you’re not going to be able to watch TV, surf the web, or use your home phone (if you have VoIP service). But when you can turn on your TV or join your home WiFi network with no issues but not actually go anywhere, it’s disconcerting. And when you combine that with disruptions in cellular service (both data and voice), it left my household cut off from the world.
The area I live in was lucky – we didn’t have to evacuate and didn’t appear to suffer any permanent damage. We didn’t need to call emergency services or anything like that. So the biggest impact from the outage was to our routine. No TV. No tweeting. No access to the world beyond my house. Real first world problems, right?
So of course we were fine. I reread some books (including Pattern Recognition). Played a few Xbox games. But it was weird. I generally watch TV during breakfast. I couldn’t do that, and the silence seemed to almost be a tangible thing. I would be reading a passage in a book and want to check something online and not be able to.
And that’s really the scary part. For four days I was cut off from a resource that I use on a daily basis to supplement my knowledge. A kind of exo-brain I can scan through to become acquainted with a subject, even if that knowledge only sticks with me for a little while. On a plane you expect it. Some even embrace the lack of connectivity – precious time where the office can’t reach them. But at home, where you’re surrounded by your belongings, I found it disconcerting to be offline for such a length of time.