As I write this on my battery-powered laptop, I am sitting in the dark in the aftermath of what the media has dubbed Superstorm Sandy. The massive hurricane and tropical storm pummeled the East Coast, taking particular aim on New York and New Jersey. At my home in Connecticut, we got less wind and rain than we expected, but we were not disappointed (is that the right word?) by the expected power outage. Our entire town was knocked out, and power is not expected to be fully restored for days. I know many others had it much worse, including massive flooding and wind damage.
So, here I am, with little or no technology working, trying to write about an industry that has become increasingly technology dependent. Virtually every woodworking operation today uses computers if only for email and bookkeeping, but much more commonly for actual design and manufacturing, too. And more and more, we are increasingly dependent on sophisticated telephone communications. I might have lost my telephone land lines, my electrical power, and my cable internet connection, but my smartphone is still working (albeit slower than usual because of system load and some cell towers without power).
We made our preparations and consider ourselves veterans of this, having survived two weeklong power outages last year. We got non-perishable food and water in. We got fuel for the generator, although ours is not a full-house unit and is only powerful enough to run the refrigerator and a few small additional appliances. And as some of you might know, when I am not in the office, I am often practicing outdoors activities like hunting, hiking, camping, and my wife and I are both involved in a network of primitive skills instructors in New England. So, it’s not like we can’t handle being without power.
But it’s one thing to play at being cave men, and another to be forced off the grid, especially when your daily work relies on a heavy measure of technology. Plus, we’ve gotten so accustomed to it. One of my best primitive skills friends, a fellow who could start a fire in two minutes with just a couple of sticks and his hands or knock out a razor-sharp stone arrowhead in a coffee break, is using his smartphone to post on Facebook that he is trapped in his home by downed wires that are blocking the driveway and keeping him from safely clearing a fallen tree.
Whether the issue is trying to get a CNC machine up and running again or simply getting the lights back on, we all are getting better at what has to be a love-hate relationship with technology. And it’s funny how self-reliance these days seems to mean things like a bigger generator and your own Wi-Fi hot spot.
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