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Musings of an Energy Nerd

Living Without Electricity

Children learn how to play by being bored

When the electricity goes out, we have an opportunity to learn more about the lighting technology used by our great-grandparents. We also face the need to wean ourselves from our addictions to electronic entertainment devices.
Image Credit: Rajeev - Flickr

This year’s hurricane season brought extensive power outages to areas of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. In some cases, electricity was restored in two or three days. In much of Puerto Rico, however, the electricity has been off for weeks, and may not be restored for months.

While most news stories from storm-devastated regions focused on deaths, injuries, and property destruction, a few stories mentioned a seemingly trivial issue: namely, that some families living without electricity weren’t sure what to do with their bored children. Facing a day without access to television or iPads, many children (the stories report) “have forgotten how to play.”

Clearly, these news stories are squishy and anecdotal. Moreover, the stories risk trivializing the pain and loss experienced by families who have been victimized by recent hurricanes. Before veering off to discuss children’s entertainment, I want to make it clear that my heart goes out to all the families that have lost loved ones, or their homes, in these storms.

“It’s like coming off drugs”

I recently read a news story about frazzled parents with bored children in the wake of Hurricane Maria. When I later looked for a link to the story, I couldn’t find it again.

But similar stories have been published for years. For example, in a New York Times article published in 2012, Aimee Lee Ball wrote about children deprived of electricity by tropical storm Sandy. She wrote, “The storm provided a rare glimpse of a life lived offline. It drove some children crazy, while others managed to embrace the experience of a digital slowdown.” A woman named Lauren Handel Zander “likened the first days of the blackout to rehab. ‘It’s like coming off drugs,’ she…

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  1. AndyKosick | | #1

    Rocks and Cans
    The rock and can story reminds me of when I had the opportunity, at the end of my college days, to frame a house in Tok, Alaska (this was for credit mind you). We camped in tents right on the job site and at night someone started throwing pea gravel into a tin can on the other side of the fire. By the end of the trip this had become a dead serious competition that everyone looked forward to nightly.

    The green building bit I can add is that this is the first and only time I encountered triple-four steel siding. The entire exterior of this house was covered in steel. This area was very familiar with wildfire and were basically always waiting for the next one. They also made sure to keep an area clear cut around the buildings. I've thought of this quite a bit lately for obvious reasons.

    What a trip though, except for the morning I woke up floating inside my tent, but that's another story.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Andy Kosick
    Thanks for your comments.

    You tell us that you were camping in Alaska. You report, "I woke up floating inside my tent." You're not the first. It happened to my wife (and other members of her group).

    Let me guess: a sea kayak trip. In late afternoon, you start scouting the shore for a good camp site. You finally find a place that looks like it will work. You pitch your tent on flat, dry ground between the ocean and the rocks (or the woods). In the middle of the night, or toward morning, you realize that you are dreaming that you are sleeping on a waterbed. The tide has come in. Quick -- scramble!

  3. PAUL KUENN | | #3

    Dam gates open too! A metaphor?
    As a guide, we'd be on glaciers for up to 48 days. Back in the early 80s that meant much of the afternoon was spent chasing clouds (either on skis or just with the eyes) and knowing what they meant for weather. Climbers now days have their eyes buried into their phone Apps and wonder where the rainstorm came from ... unless they had the Weather Channel alert on!

    Thanks Martin! On U-tube, I still see many young folks homesteading but they're smart enough to bring in the solar equipment right off the bat.

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