What If the Lights Went Out Forever?

This morning the power went out in our apartment and on our block for a few hours.  With all the crazy weather we've been having, I know some people who have lost electricity for days.  Compared to the troubles a lot of folks have gone through across the country, I count my blessings and definitely don't complain because of the minor inconvenience of a short-term blackout.  The infrastructure in New York City, for the most part, is excellent, especially in comparison to other urban areas around the world.  But going dark, even for a short time, made me think of a world in permanent power outage.

I've written before about our society's over-dependence on vulnerable technology.  Losing the Internet and television, for example, may be something that some of us would hate in the short term, but we would eventually get over it.  A larger scale catastrophe, however, would be a different matter.  What if all the lights went out and never came back on?  No more refrigerators, no more cars or trucks, no more mass electronic communications. 

Such an apocalyptic scenario has been the stuff of many science fiction tales that depict the result not as an Eden in which humanity embraces nature and transforms into a peaceful utopia.  Instead, the more likely outcome might be mass hysteria and violence as the majority of contemporary technophiles struggle to find food, water, and safety in a world that suddenly is quite different from anything they've imagined or experienced.  Only a small percentage of the population is likely to be prepared to deal with a permanent life off the grid. 

I value technology and all the luxuries that electricity affords us, but it has also turned us into a complacent society overdependent on the power that feeds our gadgets, our vehicles, and our media.  Can our culture survive if the lights went out forever?

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