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One day without technology in US

Last updated on: February 25, 2008 15:50 IST

It seems hard to remember anymore, but once upon a time we lived without Internet access at home.

One Friday morning in January, I woke up in San Francisco to find I had no electricity, no phone and obviously no Internet. It was pouring with rain. The tree outside my window kept lashing against it as if it too was trying to escape the rain and come into my bedroom.

I woke with a start and lay there disoriented, listening to the drumbeat of rain.
Something was wrong. It was too quiet. Then, I realized the power was out. My clock radio had not come on. I had overslept. It was almost 9 am and I needed to be on the radio by 10.

As I scrambled around the house getting ready, I suddenly realized my car was in the garage. The garage door opener was not going to work. And I had never opened the damn thing manually. I was a little too used to the click and press lifestyle.

I needed to call in the cavalry -- some red-blooded American male who could be trusted to know such things (along with changing tires and replacing faucets). I went to call Greg but my landline was gone (Oh! Those seductive Internet-cable-modem-phone-line combo deals never mentioned that the three-for-one advantage also means when one goes, all three bite the dust).

No fear, I thought. I will just use my cell phone. But cell phones were not really working. Every time I tried to call anyone, I could not hear them and they could not hear me.

Eventually, all I could do was send a text message. Mind you, I do not have one of those new fangled phones with keyboards that are conducive to typing long messages.

Ummm… how do I manually open garage door? I painfully plucked out my hapless entreaty hoping Greg was not asleep, in a meeting or in the shower. Bless his heart, he replied.

'Pull the red handle that is hanging from a string in the middle of the door.' I have heard that kids in America now do mathematics homework with instructors all the way over in India. It is a miracle the kinds of things you can do with technology. But have you ever tried to open a garage door by SMS? It is like sending out an instruction manual over Morse code.

'It's attached to the track overhead,' Greg added.

I could see that. Just pull? That is it? I was dubious.

'Just that? What about the handle on the door itself? Is that to lock it?'

'Use that to lock it after u leave.' (Thank goodness, you can't tell the exasperated patient tone on text messages)

Armed with a little knowledge, I tugged. Nothing happened. I tugged harder. By now, it is well approaching 9.30 am. 'Did it open when you pulled the handle?' Hmmm… nothing's happening.

'Pull harder,' says my life-coach.

I do. I have visions of pulling it right off. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing when it comes to garage doors (and tires and pipes). I tug at the door. It seems for one heart-stopping moment to yield but then remains solidly down.

'Did you get it?'

'No.' I type shamefacedly feeling like an incompetent homeowner.

Eventually Greg realizes this remote hand-holding is not going to work and hops into his car and drives across town in the rain. By the time I see his car appear at the top of the hill, it's 9.55 am. I am supposed to be on the air in five minutes. The studio keeps calling but I can't hear them, they can't hear me.

Greg gets the door open. It turns out I needed to pull the door up by its handle at the same time that I pulled the red emergency release string. I was just doing them separately. I rush into my car and fly across town.

Everywhere, uprooted trees are sprawled across streets and sidewalks. People are scurrying, their umbrellas turned inside out by 70 mph winds. The rain is coming down fiercely. On the radio I hear the mayor has declared a local state of emergency.

But it all works out.

I reach the station and am smuggled into the studio in the middle of the show, a little wet and a little out of breath. Thank God, it's not television.

All day long, however, the nagging feeling never goes away. How could I not open my own garage door? How incompetent could I be? How completely unable to fend for myself! I felt I was lost in America.

On New Year's Eve in 1999, I remember resolving I would spend Y2K in India. With everyone predicting systems collapse around the world, I felt at least in India we would know how to make do even if all the computers collapsed. I would never be so dependent on technology, I told myself. And here I was trapped in my own house.

By the time I came home that evening, the electricity was back in the houses but the streets were still dark. It was a brownout, just a dim flickering light, barely enough to read by. Eventually even that was gone and the city disappeared in another blackout. As I ran around the house with a rapidly dying torch, I realized I couldn't find either matches or candles.

And I was supposed to be living in earthquake country where I should have an earthquake kit handy at all times.

Eventually, the power came back. But still wary of garage doors, I decided to leave my car outside for the night. I turned on the computer and realized the Internet was still gone. When I called my cable provider, a recorded voice informed me, "We are aware of the outage in your area. You do not need to leave a message. Our technicians are working on it." Rrright! By then, it was midnight on Friday.

I text my mother in India who was expecting my weekly call, 'Might not be able to call. Storm knocked out my phone internet.'

The weekend stretched before me -- no cable television, no phone, no Internet. I just went to bed.

I wish I could say I learned to meditate and found inner peace and learned to let go of the maya of being connected. That didn't quite happen. By the time services were restored two days later, I was a little stir-crazy. But some good came out of it after all. My kitchen was the cleanest it had been in years.

Sandip Roy hosts Up Front, a culture radio program on KALW 91.7 in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is associate editor with Pacific News Services and New California Media. He has won the Katha Prize for Indian-American fiction.