By Maven Cade Leary
“God Dammit! Not Again!”
I cursed at the world, grateful in the knowledge no sane God could possibly be listening to my bullshit. And even if one could be, it is highly unlikely that he/she would be. Between me and the seven or whatever billion humans on this planet, there has to be a lot of BS flying around at any one moment, and any kind of a rational deity would have to turn a deaf ear on most of it to keep their shit together, one would think.
The world around had gone dark again, this time with a slight blue flash coming from somewhere nearby. The day had been an intermittent power outage, and as dark was overtaking us, it was becoming apparent to me just how much of a junkie to technology I had become.
When I got up this morning, I had no idea my will and my chosen purpose for this life would be questioned, I had no idea the floodgate that was about to be released on my still fragile morning mood. Everything just spoke of another Montreal winter’s day, a Sunday in early January like any other.
And I had shit to do today… I had to work on my book, watch some shows, do my laundry, and get ready to go back to facing the real world the next morning. So not an epic day by any standards, but a normal day with lots of time off to do stuff we normally take for granted. Stuff that these days requires electricity, in my neck of the woods anyways.
I made myself some tea and got high before even looking outside and seeing how delicate my situation currently was. I went back to my computer, messed around, sent a few messages, got the day ready to roll with my book open before me, and got a craving for some nicotine.
Once outside, I realized the temperature had risen drastically, and the rain led to this crazy coat of ice covering everything. The trees looked like some weird swollen version of themselves, sickly drooping toward the ground. The tight circular staircase in back of my apartment looked like a death trap, and a cartoon image of someone sliding all the way down, tumbling head over heels as they went briefly danced within my mind. We would have to be careful on that one today.
As I enjoyed my morning cigarette (only weed inside, for my own health as well as others), I listened to the world creak, crone, hiss and sizzle. The combination of the trees groaning, cars squealing to break free, the hard hitting barely-water droplets pounding down all around, and the wailing of the weird goat baby they keep next door was enough to make me realize we were in trouble here.
I assume the baby is actually human, but I am honestly not sure.
I didn’t have much more time to do my stuff when I heard it, the transformer that would mark my descent into darkness…
My laptop had power to go for a bit, but that’s not the main component of this contraption. The loss of the Internet, the connection to the world and the better part of my brain, that’s what had me tweaking a little, like I feel when I am out of weed or smokes.
I have sometimes said that without Google, I am only half as smart, but truth is I am a lot dumber than that. Hell, how do I check what gluten is if someone asks me what the fuck that stuff does to your health? I have done it, I’ve stood there looking dumb as I mumble something about this or that effect… it’s probably bad for you… right?
Then I looked it up, and now I know. It’s pretty bad for you if you have celiac disease, but otherwise, well, it’s just a wheat protein… There’s lots of info out there, so why take some health nut’s word for it?
Thanks to the Internet, done are the endless arguments over trivia without a simple resolution. It has been a long time since I bothered to try and argue with someone without simply referring to the Internet. I never liked the ego thing about such debates. I don’t care if I’m right or wrong, and it sure is nice to get the facts rather than let hearsay and half-truths fester in the brain as semi-facts.
I sat there looking at my computer, at the draining battery, and based on the conditions out there, it was gonna be a while before those poor bastards working for the electric company would get around to our ghetto neighborhood.
I watched the timer count down, the minutes left on my laptop, until the end of civilization. A simple device, this computer, and yet symbolic of so much more. Once all the lights go out, they remain, with their own little power supplies, able to bring us through the short gaps, and acting as beacons into the darkness…
Ok, so I am being dramatic. I’ve lived, quite pleasantly, away from all human infrastructure more than once. I know my life does not stop with the collapse of the grid. I have a compound bow, extreme cold weather sleeping gear, and other things required to bring me through a truly dark awakening, should the misfortune ever befall us.
But it got me thinking. About the world, about our vulnerable state of being.
Out here, the weather can drop like a sack of stones. In the city, it’s illegal to have a wood stove or fireplace unless it’s been there for a while and insurances have cleared it. We are heating on electricity, so an ice storm like the one that hit in 1998, cutting power for weeks on end, can be a serious issue.
As it is, all I have to worry about is the food in the fridge and the water pump of my turtle, Betsy. I can keep warm, and I have lots to smoke.
A second transformer blows nearby, this one right out my window through the little alley in back, seeming to seal our fate. How many of these were exploding like popcorn all over the city was anyone’s guess. Without the Internet, I could not look it up… I would later discover 150 000 people were reported without power in my vicinity.
After my battery died down and I was truly plunged into the previous century, I pulled out a book and sat back on a reclining chair. I read a few dozen pages, but mostly I sat there and I pondered my situation, the odd empty feeling I had inside, the desire to get plugged in, to know where the world was at this moment.
What made it odd was that just the other day, I had sat back with the same book, on the same chair, and while the Internet was busy flowing through the veins of my computer, and it was greedily downloading a torrent, I had spent hours on end deeply entrenched, even remarking to myself how nice it was to sit back with nothing to do but read a good book in physical format. How could a forced isolation feel so much like a chore whereas the same reality had been a treat so recently?
I thought of the way a girl suddenly ignoring me could make me want her all the more… How when you are visiting family for the holidays, the same people you have been missing can become a burden and time alone just seems like such a relief… How, when you have children, time relaxing alone seems like a gift from the creator, and then once they leave home, the isolation and calm is unbearable…
Maybe humans just want things they cannot have, even when they have what they actually want. Who am I to say. All I can attest to is that suddenly, there was a hole in my life.
The power came back on briefly, then died again. Then it came on again. And soon, it seemed like the whole world would return to normal, as the street behind us got their power back as well.
I went to the laundromat while my roommate attempted to cook himself some supper. The conditions out there were horrible. The sound of the trees was outright frightening. Passing underneath them took some courage. I saw a branch and quite a few chunks of ice fall around me. I set my laundry and returned home to find our power had been cut again, my roommate’s food only half cooked.
The power eventually came back, and the things that I had been planning to do all got done. It’s just kind of a shock to me to realize how “soft” I have become in my daily life. My younger self would have scorned me and told me to toughen up, to get up off my lazy ass and make life happen!
But those had been simpler days, when I still believed that humanity was in this thing for peace, prosperity and justice for all, not just for a rich minority. Back then, I had been convinced that things were either going to degenerate beyond a breaking point, or some force for good would rise up and rally us together into an unstoppable force for change. This shit could never keep up, could it?…
Well, now I have bought into the whole rat race. I have come to see that this damned thing can probably keep mending its wounds for quite a while longer, long enough to truly drive the ecosystem into the ground. And so I have changed my tactics for reformation. I have strayed from the good people and moved towards the good machines. I have come to the sad conclusion that since humans are lazy assed SOBs who will only change when they hit the bottom of the barrel, that our best bet for a non-destructive transitional infrastructure lies in technological revolutions.
Rather than try and convince anybody of anything, you create an alternative that can be utilized by all…
I am not going to go into details here, as my projects could cause me to rant for hours on end, but will simply point out that I have decided to buckle down and learn some good old fashioned coding. I am teaching myself how to swim in the world of computers, and so am becoming increasingly invested in their continued existence. Should the entire grid collapse, not only would this mean countless suffering and needless death, but all my time and efforts working towards my current holy grail will be in vain. Should the computer age come to a close, I would be truly bored, as some of my best moments recently come to me deep in between lines of code that only a few could understand.
To explain the beauty of a genetic algorithm to a non-coder is like trying to explain a sunset to a blind person, or writing to a deaf person how amazing Bach’s Air in D minor sounds.
Sometimes, the same wonder and uncontrollable smile fills my being while coding as while watching someone I love win something.
Yes, my world would be darker without computers, without my hope in nanobot 3-D printers running through my blood stream recreating my cells, granting me longevity, without my dreams of mentally linking with computers directly, thus being able to do my job while surfing, chilling on a beach or mountaintop, bored at a social function, or whenever, wherever…
But the lights on my router are back up. Things have returned to normal. I am downloading a torrent and getting bored with this screen.
I think I will go finish reading that book now.