Wow, I am having a serious case of deja vu right now. As I write this, the deafening throb of a propane generator is pounding away outside my window and an iPhone rests at my side. I live in New Hampshire, and thanks to a recent snow storm, I’ve been living without electricity for the last few days. Again.
The first time was a little over a year ago. My state went through the worst power outage in its history, thanks to the ice storm of December 2008. It took days, in most cases, and weeks in others for power to be restored.
In our case, we spent five days off the grid. Melting snow on the wood burning stove to “wash” dishes, brush teeth, and flush toilets became normal after a little while. (When you are on well water, losing electricity means there is no juice to power the pump.) So six family members, spanning three generations, lived out of one room with a wood stove and took shifts throughout the nights to feed it every two hours.
So that was the frustration I was living in last year two weeks before Christmas, with four frustrated adults, two sick kids and a houseful of yuck. By the end, we were filthy, exhausted emotionally and physically, and sick to death of winter. I was even tempted to “cancel” Christmas, but was thankfully, overruled. My sanity? My husband’s iPhone.
Even with spotty AT&T coverage at my house, we could somewhat reliably make calls, check email, get the weather report, and generally stay connected with those around us. I felt safe in the knowledge that I could call 911 in an emergency and be available to loved ones who might need us.
In all this chaos, thanks to his iPhone, we weren’t alone. And whenever the battery meter showed a mere sliver of red, I felt my heart speed up. The thought of losing the only connection we had to the larger world terrified me.
The roads were still a mess, but my husband and I ventured out to see if the local grocery and Radio Shack were open. We needed bottled drinking water and a phone charging solution. The battery-operated iPhone charger we got burned through 2 AA batteries in few hours for about half a charge, but at least it worked.
On the third day, my husband held out his hand to take his iPhone back, saying, “I would be lost without this thing. It makes me feel safe.” (Two weeks later, one sat under the tree for me. It’s a good thing I didn’t cancel Christmas after all!)
Since then, the Dellario family vowed to “never go though this again” and invested in a propane generator that kicks in during power fails. So a couple of days ago, when the Snow Hurricane of 2010 hit, I woke up in the middle of the night and heard a loud mechanical drumming outside. We were officially on generator.
The first thing I did was reach for my smartphone to check the weather and local news. The local utility company says that it will be at least five days until power is restored, perhaps even longer.
Seeing an end in sight certainly makes a difference in our ability to handle the situation. But more than just needing the latest updates, I think what I wanted more was to know that we weren’t alone. I needed to know that others are “out there.”
Some things are different this time around: We have a generator, heat, water, and a plan. And I have my very own handset this time, which has become my constant companion. But some things are also the same: Living in a semi survivalist scenario without basic utilities, a land line phone, cable, or internet access would feel scarier and unsettling without this mobile device as our life line.
I know the iPhone may get some flack for being a bit too simplistic or overly controlled, but when your world becomes a mess of complication and worry — let me tell you, having an easy-to-use and fairly bug-free communications tool offers a peace of mind like no other.
And it succeeds in doing the very thing we need most: It offers us a feeling of safety and connection with hardly a bother to add to our list of issues right now. (Speaking of connection, I even filed this post by emailing from my device.)
And so I’m here, awash in the experience of mobile technology’s noblest of intentions realized: Communication. Safety. Security. I would’ve loved the iPhone regardless. But in times like these, I am beyond grateful for it.