What Does It Take to Turn Off the 21st Century? A Saw.

By | February 27, 2015

Some asshole
turned off the 21st century
in northern Arizona yesterday. The
hardest part was probably the hike. The modern world flows to
northern Arizona in a cable that runs hundreds of miles through the
desert. That cable was cut in an
isolated river bed near New River
, north of Phoenix. Once the
vandals were there, doing damage wasn’t that big a challenge. The
cable is about as thick through as a man’s leg, so the right tool
in a backpack was all it took. And there went the 21st century, and
maybe a few illusions some of us (**cough**) may have about the
extent of our independence.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every
company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run
through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital
communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona
businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops
vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for
the stations to get back online so they could process company
credit cards to fill their tanks. It’s not like the drivers could
just take out cash—ATMs were down, too.

My wife’s pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch
them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays,
scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically
sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned
landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern
world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and
clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

There’s a lot to like about the interconnected, digitized modern
world. I wouldn’t be telecommuting from a rural area if I didn’t
have an electronic link to the world beyond. People like me now
have the historical luxury of living where we want while doing work
that, not so long ago, required an actual presence in a major
population center.

But that means we need that electronic link. I thought I was
being clever by using a smart phone hotspot as a backup for
occasional Internet outages. Unfortunately, for much of its
journey, the conduit for my smart phone runs all of two inches from
the main Internet connection. Live and learn.

The outage inconvenienced me. Some folks who’ve grown up in the
wired age had a worse time of it. According to
CBS 5
, “Zak Holland, who works at a computer store at Northern
Arizona University, said distraught students were nearly in tears
when he said nothing could be done to restore their Internet
connection.”

Northern Arizona is sparsely settled, which likely explains its
weak connection to the modern age. Fiber optic is
pricey to lay down per mile
, and there’s only so much of it
that any company can afford to run across the wilderness to serve a
scattered population. We get our 3G, but we have to live with the
fact that somebody with a
grudge, hiking boots, and a spade
can take it away.

That’s a reality check for those of us who value our
independence. I use the Internet to liberate me from places I don’t
want to live, governed by politicians I don’t like, who impose laws
I find intrusive. But in the process, I make myself dependent on a
six-inch-wide pipe.

So now, to ensure a bit more of that that independence I thought
I had, I have to work a bit harder on that backup plan.

Category: Liberty
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