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Out of the Sandbox

Life among the powerless

I just spent eight days without electricity and Internet. Hurricane Sandy whipped through my area and wiped out all 21st century modes of communication. Since I didn't test, view, or otherwise engage with products that didn't require my immediate attention or distraction during the past week, this post is based solely on observations made from my high-powered perch at (where else?) Starbucks.
November 8, 2012

I just spent eight days without electricity and Internet. Hurricane Sandy whipped through my area and wiped out all 21st century modes of communication. Luckily, I still had a landline to call my mother (I know, so last century).  Since I didn’t test, view, or otherwise engage with products that didn’t require my immediate attention or distraction during the past week, this post is based solely on observations made from my high-powered perch at (where else?) Starbucks.

What did I learn about kids’ technology? Young kids, the so-called second gen of digital natives (preschoolers to around 10) can survive a lot better than their parents without the Internet. Kids still like to play games, off-line is fine. Parent after parent told me that their kids actually enjoyed having the week to just “play.” Several mentioned the rare opportunity to play in the neighborhood streets, made impassable to cars by fallen trees. And when parents put down their devices, they had fun too. No one likes not having heat and hot water. The whoosh of steaming milk makes everyone smile. But life went on, albeit not as usual. Here are a few of the conversations that buzzed around my caffeinated corner:

Man on Skype, unshaven in that “I don’t have hot water” rather than “I’m so cool” type of way; an extension cord with three plugs coming out of it wiring up his computer, iPad, and iPhone. Trying hard to sound calm, but not really succeeding. “Just sign the f#ing contract. Yes, I’m fine.  FINE. I feel guilty that my wife and kids are home without a generator. No, I don’t know what they’re doing. Probably watching television. Oh…yeah. Well, I’m going to order one. Make sure he still agrees to the contingencies.  YES! Let me know when it’s done.”  Whew! I was stressed enough without hearing more. I turned to my left.

There sat a mom with two kids, about five and seven years old, playing dominoes…. Yes, those black and white dotted rectangles. The older child had a gaming tablet (I couldn’t tell what kind) charging while they played. Their conversation was muted and contained; mostly about the moves they were making. They were all drinking hot chocolate, even the Mom. Every once in a while I heard giggles.  The entire time I watched them, no one glanced at the tablet.  They stayed about an hour and then quietly gathered their toys and left. I could only hope they were going to frolic in the sunshine.

Then there was the man who sat next to me and tried to engage in conversation until he got the hint that I didn’t speak English.  He was charging two Kindle Fires so he and his daughter could each read at night. Nice. But he was going on and on about how he just got a new computer and had to download all new Microsoft Office files and it was taking too long. Not really a power-outage problem. I had no sympathy.

Another talker was intent on asking everyone for the latest news because he hadn’t seen a television in days. Every time someone answered, he proceeded to correct them about statistics and updates. Why was my patience running thin?

On Saturday, I spotted three au pairs watching movies on their computers. All wore earbuds, but also we talking to each other. “We have a generator, but no Internet.”  “We don’t have a generator, so the kids have been playing outside all week. It’s kinda fun.” “The mom is going crazy. She keeps running to the gym to shower and get away. The kids are okay. ”

My favorite table was occupied by a little girl about six, playing with the rainbow that prisms had created on her table.  She kept moving her hand in and out of the colors. She was drinking a vanilla frappuccino, which she discovered was a perfectly white palette for the prism. Her mother was totally engaged in conversation with her. Neither one had any devices.

At another table sat a high school junior and her mother. The mother was online. The daughter was on her phone. When I talked to them, the mother told me how upset she was that the SATs were cancelled on Saturday. The daughter just shrugged. Whatever.

My neighbor waved to me from the coffee line. When I asked how he and his two boys (ages six and seven) were doing, he grinned. “They love this. Every night we build a fire and I tell them stories about when I was a kid. It’s their favorite part of the day.” From the rapture on his face, I guessed it was his favorite part too.

Then it was  time for another gingerbread latte. Always good to have something to look forward to.

Send me your stories – powerful or powerless – at Wendy@sandboxsummit.org

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