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I remember the day that all the lights went out. It was April 15, 2111. I was in school and the touch screen I was working at went dark. I listened to exclamations of surprise and outrage as all other screens shut off. The computers never shut off. Why would they now?
The principal announced within a few minutes that we could leave until they fixed the problem. He seemed so flustered. I soon realized why.
It wasn’t just our learning centers that had lost power. Every electronic device had gone out. None of the plasma billboards were working. No lights were on. Cars had died in the middle of the street. Seeing New York without power was shocking. I mean, The Grid never failed.
I stood outside the building transfixed by the few moments of quiet, but others were not as dumbfounded.
“Kailyn!” I looked over to see Violet sobbing.
“My phone stopped working! What am I supposed to do?” I looked at her mouth agape, Violet seemed only concerned that her phone was no longer functioning. Couldn’t she see that there was something huge and very wrong happening?
“Don’t worry, everything will be alright soon.”
That was when the chaos really began.
We had been walking this whole time, and were by now part of a huge crowd. People had sunk to the pavement over the loss of their electronics, some yelled angrily to anyone who would listen, and still many others stood in mute amazement.
There was a roaring that kept getting louder. I looked up and saw a plane tumbling end over end toward the ground. I dove into the nearest building and jammed myself into a corner. The plane hit the street a few seconds later. The air exploded along with the building. I covered my ears trying futilely to block out the noise. The building was crumpling around me and the air started to crackle. The body of the plane had caught on fire. Instinct took over, I uncurled and ran out. But I wasn’t fast enough. The plane exploded and threw me to the ground. I got up and kept running. Why had the plane crashed? A stupid question because I already knew the answer. The planes were automated, part of The Grid, run by computers. I guess the entire network had blacked out. With horror, I realized this meant that planes were crashing all over the country. So many deaths . . . how had it happened?
I had a strange upbringing, very different from that of most people in the world. My father was, and still is, a history professor at the local college and highly disapproves of modern society. We are literally one of the only families in New York with no television wall and I am the only teenager with no cell phone. My mother is an antiques dealer, so we have all these weird old artifacts from the past couple hundred years scattered around the house.
That night we ate by candlelight. For once, my father was quiet. Low flying satellites had just started to fall, but not causing as much damage as the planes, most of their mass had burnt up. Planes had stopped falling, but not before destroying a good chunk of the city. We could hear people moving outside through the streets, yelling and sobbing.
A knock at the door. My dad opened it to a woman in her mid-twenties with a tearstained face.
“Sir, come, bring your family. We are leading a protest!”
He looked at her calmly, ”A protest against what?”
She looked confused, ”Against the loss of electricity, of course. We will march on the power companies!”
“The electricity will probably come back on later tomorrow. Just wait until then. Do something productive now instead.”
She looked at him mouth agape, ”Tomorrow?! That’s so long! I’m missing my favorite shows and I haven’t been on the Interweb all day! And how am I supposed to do anything without electricity?”
“Well it won’t be solved faster because you whine, and by productive, I meant go help the injured, or clean rubble. Many have died today; it’s the least you can do.” With that, he shut the door and sat back down to dinner.
“You know,” he said, ”If everything wasn’t on The Grid, the power outage wouldn’t have caused this much damage.”
I thought about that as I lay in bed. My dad had told me about a time when airplanes and cars had not been on The Grid. When only 55% of American households had Internet, and 91%, not 100% (excluding me) of Americans owned cell phones. It’s relatively similar worldwide. I think it would have been better then, about one hundred years ago. Less complicated.
The next day we walked to Town Hall. Our two senators were going to speak to us about what happened. There was one wireless microphone with battery left, the only piece of machinery I’d seen working since yesterday morning.
Our senators were not ones to mince words: “We are in the midst of a worldwide crisis. The Grid has shut down completely. The world reserves of oil have run dry, so there is no way for us to fix The Grid.”
Our other senator stepped forward, “Scientists have confirmed that a freak solar storm has thrown all of our satellites out of the sky. In short, we will have no electricity or machinery indefinitely. Please, do not panic, we must all stay strong if we are to come through this calamity. Everyone, we please ask you to—” The microphone died, so the rest of his sentence was swallowed up by the crowd’s rage and despair.
The rest of the story leaked and spread slowly. Oil had apparently been running low for a while, but that information failed to make it out past the government to the rest of us. The Grid runs on oil. It was the only source of energy.
Everything was connected to The Grid, so society fell apart when it died. Many jobs were computer based, or far away from where people lived, so many couldn’t go to work.. School was canceled until teachers could be found to teach us in place of computers. Travel plans were canceled for everyone.
The most obvious and detrimental effect of the Blackout was an insane spike in crime. The police relied on technology to keep order. Their cars, handcuffs, weapons, files,a face recognition, and all the rest of their tools ran on The Grid. Without it, they were little more than figureheads. Muggings, looting, fights, drugs, they all became even more commonplace than before. All the cell doors in the jails are automated, but thankfully, the compound doors were not.
Riots were even more commonplace. These protests didn’t accomplish anything, but I don’t think that was the point. People had lost everything that they valued, and protesting seemed to make them feel a little better. Streets were choked with dead cars and people who felt as if they were dying.
Clean up from the initial destruction was slow. People chafed at having to do manual labor, as there were no machines. Rubble was on the streets for a year after the Blackout started.
I remember walking to the grocery store and running into a middle aged man in the middle of the sidewalk crying softly.
“What’s wrong?” I had asked.
“My tracker doesn’t work and now I can’t find the grocery store.”
I had seen this man at the grocery store about a hundred times. “Come with me.” So I led him there. You would have thought I had saved his life.
That first year was rough.
Corporations that previously held power in government, no longer did. These technology companies and the owners of The Grid lost huge amounts of money, and no money equals no power. Sure, they had some to begin with, paper was still effective, but that ran out. The one corporation that wasn’t getting torn up was the credit card company. They started lending paper money through banks. Plastic wasn’t an option for a while.
The majority of people were out of work, an economic crisis following that rivaled The Great Depression. The rich and the poor were put on similar levels, only a state of mind separating them.
The only form of mass entertainment was sports. That had to be cancelled due to a lack of money. Perhaps this was good though. You could see families out tossing a ball back and forth, or walking the dog, or having picnics. Family connections could even be classified as “strengthened” in many instances.
Death became an uncomfortably close aspect of life for too many people. The health care industry was another business that failed with the Blackout. If you got very sick, you didn’t have great recovery chances. Of course first priority was given to reinstating hospitals and such, but we still have a way to go. Home remedies became very popular, that’s for sure.
My family seemed to cope with the Blackout better than most. In fact, my father reveled in it. Don’t misunderstand me, he didn’t like the deaths or total destruction, but as a history buff, he loved seeing history in progress. He observed with glee how people were coping and adapting, writing it all down. Mom was doing better with her antiques business. People were buying old machines that wont use electricity, and she was one of three such providers in the area.
I was held apart by my peers. I was not falling to pieces, I was not having cellphone with drawl, and I was not constantly complaining. I was therefore ostracized to some degree, I think my constant criticism and general contentedness grated on some nerves.
It has been three and a half years since the Blackout. I am now eighteen. I really wish that I could tell you that we have made progress. Actually, no, that isn’t quite fair. We have made progress.
School started up again within six months of the Blackout. We are now being taught by other people instead of computers, like how it was in the olden days. The city was mostly cleaned of rubble.
The world is in a technology race to the top. Competing to be the first back up and running. Green energy, a huge fad back in the 21st century that never really took off, is being heavily invested in. like algae, wind, and sun energy. Scientists are re-inventing everything and adapting it to fit our new energy source.
The Grid was unofficially scrapped, despite the protests of many large corporations. They stated that the problem wasn’t The Grid. They blamed it all on tampering. However, No one is willing to invest in a system that may collapse so spectacularly again.
We are by no means done however. Electricity is only up and running in a few small areas. There have been no satellites launched as of yet. Transportation is not working yet, neither is most communication. We definitely haven’t solved our explosion of crime, but I don’t think anyone expected us to.
As for society? We couldn’t have gone through what we did and come out unchanged. We have learned how to survive without technology. How to be self-sufficient.
The Blackout taught us a lot of embarrassing things about ourselves. But, I know that when we’re back on top, no one will go without that bittersweet technology.