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Westover: Life lessons on technology from the Rogers outage – Ottawa Citizen

We’ve moved beyond the individual fix, and now we’re collectively reliant on a group of technical savants to rejig our proverbial rabbit ears in the sky.
After the recent power outage, I was making a list to ensure we were prepared for the next eventuality. Flameless candles. Battery-operating reading light. One of those breadbox-sized power banks that retains it’s charge for three months and can juice up a phone or boil a kettle.

But while I was laying the groundwork for Derecho 2.0, I didn’t anticipate a different kind of outage. Just as COVID-19 is adept at mutating into newer, sneakier variants, the same is proving true for life’s unpleasant little surprises.

It got me to thinking about how frighteningly reliant we’ve become on technology few of us understand.

Remember when your TV went staticky, and you jiggled the rabbit ears? Or else your dad climbed onto the roof with a ladder to “adjust” the satellite receiver? Or when you just gave something a good smack to jolt the connection? Those options aren’t open to us anymore.

We’ve moved beyond the individual fix, and now we’re collectively reliant on a group of technical savants to rejig our proverbial rabbit ears in the sky. Even more than that, we haven’t built in “old-fashioned” redundancies because we’ve deemed them unnecessary.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I had cold, hard cash in my physical wallet. I spoke to several people last week who were emptying piggybanks to buy a cup of coffee. And I was reminded of my dad’s advice when I was a teenager: always have a $20 bill somewhere on your person … just in case. I’ll be doing that from now on.

Remember when you could plunk a quarter into a payphone? Or, worse come to worst, make a collect call? I can’t recall the last time I saw one of these formerly ubiquitous pieces of infrastructure. The same is true for a phone book made of actual paper, or a rotary dial you can plug into a jack. I’m not suggesting we should turn back the clock, but I am feeling nostalgia for simpler times.

Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always easier.

Like when the biography on the famous Canadian you wanted to profile for Grade 11 history was already checked out of the library, and suddenly you were researching some other historical figure by default. Or when you had to write your French essay without the benefit of online translation software. Or walk over to your friend’s house to ask advice because your brother was on the only phone in the house.

Maybe these mini-trials and tribulations built up a bit of resiliency. They forced us to find creative solutions and I’m convinced we had more free time. Now, when our technology — as miraculous as it is — fails us on a grand scale, we throw up our hands and post memes (if we have internet, or run to the nearest Starbucks to do the same if we don’t) … because there is literally nothing else we can do.

I don’t have the solution, and I certainly don’t want to return to the days of three channels and perpetual busy signals (remember those?). But for the record, I could get by without auto-correct.

Last Friday’s Rogers outage underscores that maybe we should be looking for a happy medium (no pun intended)!

Suzanne Westover is an Ottawa writer.

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