Did I really believe it?
Did I really believe that a hurricane would actually wreak havoc in my city – New York?
Despite all the warnings, all the charts, all the predictions, all the meteorological models – did I really, really believe it – or did I have a small suspicion, tickling at the back of my mind, that this was all a media hype – not unlike what we saw during the Republican National Convention in Florida, or even in New York, last year, when Hurricane Irene hit us with a bit of a whimper – and was forgotten (except, I am pained to say, by the few who really sustained loss).
And I am ready to bet that many of my neighbors and friends and fellow New Yorkers felt the same. In fact, I’m sure you’ve seen the reports and postings – for example, a guy on a Jet Ski riding up and down the Hudson River who made it clear to local reporters that he didn’t believe a real storm was coming. He also had a camera attached to his head – no doubt this footage will surface commercially somewhere if it hasn’t already.
Then there were people who refused evacuation, despite the warnings, and despite pleas that if there were a disaster, first responders would be diverted from other emergencies to save those who could have kept themselves from harm (the Governor of New Jersey was pretty harsh in his assessment of those folks who needlessly put others in harm’s way).
In another weird twist, a drama likely played out many times in the past came to a sad end as the replica of the HMS Bounty sank in the storm…two lives were lost and many question, why? Not to mention the selfless Coast Guard who had to risk their own lives….
And, of course, the sad fact is that it hit and it hit bad. In fact, if anything, the waters came up higher, the damage was greater and the loss of life was more than anything anyone had predicted.
The devastation is horrific. No power, no water, no heat, no food, no gas. The Army is protecting many areas and patrolling the gas stations – normally places we pull in and out of – today dangerous locales where fights are breaking out and violence has become commonplace as people battle for a tankful.
Over the past couple of years, we have helped our friends in Japan, New Zealand and Thailand – as they stoically and heroically recovered from tsunami, earthquake and floods. Yet no matter how much we helped – we were spectators, mere observers. Today we are participants – actors on the main stage as this catastrophe plays out in all its acts.
And as participants, one can only hope that we approach our recovery with the grace, courage and fortitude that our compatriots did around the world.
I have written a number of times about what happens when technology fails us – when our reliance on the “magic” of today lets us down. Now – New York had no elaborate system of walls or levees like Japan or New Orleans – and today we can place our own tsunami stones – but we all know that no one will really listen and that the next storm will make them obsolete. We had no special reliance on technology to protect us – but it turns out that we had overreliance on technology to connect us.
By that I mean – we have become so wired, so plugged in, so “social centric” that many young people were left in a state of helplessness when they didn’t know where to turn for news and information as they lost power, and their computers and smartphones and various mobile devices drained and died and their Internet signals faded away.
They forgot about another “cloud” communication – radio – and that hand-crank emergency radios (sold all over by the way) were a great way – in fact, for many the only way – to get news.
Residents of the West Village in lower Manhattan, a normally 24/7 vibrant center of activity, told me about the B-movie atmosphere – a real zombie venue – where people dejectedly walked the streets, grabbing strangers and pleading for news.
On the other hand, those of us with power – and I almost guiltily tell you that we were un-affected (though our daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren had no power and are now living in our apartment) – had multiple screens going for updates, watched videos and were annoyed when the VOD channel flickered. So it goes – but even then we had no real idea – in fact, I even went out to take pictures.
And like many other New Yorkers, I found the attempt of some retailers to tie the storm to their interests to be in very poor taste. Even for those of us who still had power, this was not the connection we were looking for.
Seems to me, though, the real lesson is about connectivity – person to person; about what drives our lives as people and community; about what makes us feel secure and comfortable.
As we lost power, as we lost the Internet – some people panicked. And the magic happened – to many – listen to the words of two young women from Asia who are in New York for the first time, working on assignment and got caught in the power outages:
Woes of being a millennial
Gusts of wind slipped through my window, while I scurried to get my electronics charged. I anxiously awaited the devastation that Sandy was about to bring forth to the NYC region.
And then the Wi-Fi got cut off.
My one and only means of communication with people back home in Singapore, or anyone at all, was taken away from me. It was almost as though I was crippled indirectly by the storm, though I was very much safe and sound in the four walls of my sanctuary.
Born in 1993, I was born into the world of technology. Though premature back then, I felt technology and myself taking baby steps towards growth and maturity together. In short, I grew up with technology – and technology grew up with me.
I’m a millennial. I’m a product of Generation Z, the ones who grew up with the Internet.
I was born native to the era of social networking and high-speed broadband. I was the first in my household of four to learn how to text. I taught my brother how to text, my mother to Skype and created a Facebook page for my dad.
Everything is instant, and I never have to wait, except three minutes for my instant noodles to be ready. Even then, I still wish someone would invent instant food that would magically heat itself up upon ripping open the package.
Knowing that the Internet enables me to stay connected, desensitized me to being alone in a foreign country. It gave me a connection…even in isolation.
But there I was. Alone. On my own. In the dark. When the power went off.
Absolute darkness, absolute solitude. Stripped bare, and forced to feel the full impact of being.
I worry about my generation’s overdependence on technology. I worry that technology is robbing us of the essence being a person, engulfing us in the mad whirlpool of information, and the superficiality of artificial intelligence.
Tania Victoria Neubronner
Loss of connection, loss of disconnection?
After spending 48 hours on Roosevelt Island without power, I felt that the loss of social media indeed connected people better.
“You may lose all the power within an hour because of the Hurricane Sandy,” a public safety staff member notified me and my flatmates.
A little later, all the lights were off. My three flatmates and I, face to face, sat together in the dark. We started chatting.
I couldn’t remember the last time when I had such a delightful conversation with someone without the interruption of social media. I asked myself whether what connects us disconnects interpersonal communication in terms of ruining consistent perception. We might have a peek at someone’s life from Facebook or Twitter. We could also send greetings to someone via online messages. It appears that everyone is closely connected digitally regardless of the space and time. However, when we have more access to the online profiles, we have less interest in face-to-face communication. Our perception of information is fragmented by disparate messages on social media. It’s becoming difficult for us to concentrate on a single topic. The torrents of texts and images disturb us from selectively reading information rationally. A person we know is the person living electronically instead of in the reality. The connective social media disconnect us from genuine human communication.
Frankly – here is the lesson and here is the future.
As we struggle to make sense of it all – as the politicians and planners agonize over the billions of dollars that might be spent – beyond the clean-up – to protect us from the next one (and it won’t), maybe we should take a step back and look at the human piece – how do we make sure that we know how to connect, how to share, how to know – when all that’s left is us….
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
We have not created the web…it was there way before we called it digital…before we “discovered” mobile…before we created social networks….HMMMMMMMM.
What do you think?