Manassas Journal Messenger | Hurricane proved to be a triumph for 1950s technology

Last week’s stormy weather didn’t have a lot of good things going for it, but it did bring into focus one aspect of modern life that only became more obvious because of some things that did not work well, rather than those that did. In some key respects (perhaps even life-or-death ways) it came down to the so-called “new media” versus “old media.” Let’s give thanks for the latter.

So much for “state of the art” technology. When the power went out last week throughout our region, so did most television sets and DVD players. And all the computers and our e-mail. So did the cordless home phones and our precious cell phones. In other words, everything that gives many of us a reason to live, died! On the other hand, everything that worked back in the 1950’s – worked last week, too. Go figure.

While sexy cell phones are only as good as the closest cell tower, and those cordless phones at home only work when the bases are plugged into the wall, there was a worthy alternative.

Remember those “old fashioned” phones – the ones that come with something we call “phone lines” that plug directly into the wall and have those curly rubber-coated wires hanging off the handheld receivers? The ones that don’t need to be plugged into electric sockets to work? And the most original of all “wireless” devices that work rain or shine, power or not? We call that “radio.”

And with those convenient little energy cells on hand (“batteries”), these little tools of the last century never seem to outdate themselves. “Battery-power radios” – wow, what a concept! Throw in flashlights, and then you have the convenience of news, information and light! In a crisis, what else do you need? (Okay, maybe dry ice, which is another cutting edge tool of yesteryear which works just as well today.)

Of course, the original tool of choice in any crisis, dating back to when the first humans lived in caves (mainly because there simply were no houses yet), is fire. But candles are a no-no these days because of safety concerns, so fire is out when it comes to a light source. Which is why we have flashlights. We can’t cook on them, yet, but at least we can see how much damage was done to our homes in the dark, sooner, instead of waiting till morning.

The “old media” has been taking a bashing for the past few years, as snazzy new cell phones and zippy little cordless home phones have garnered much of the attention of the techno-savvy among us. Millions of consumers in the past few years have even taken the big step of cutting their ties to their regular home phones (literally and figuratively) and now rely totally on their cell phones. Sounded like a good idea at the time. A few weeks ago. Suckers! Last week not only did these “forward-thinkers” not have cell phone service – they had no phone service of any kind!

Luckily, those of us who were too cheap and lazy (sorry, make that “too savvy and perceptive”) to get rid of our archaic, clunky, handset-wired telephone from the last century (the 20th, if you’re counting), had something to talk about during Isabel last week and the floods of early this week. And we had something to talk about it “on.”

Beyond old media, we discovered that other things that we assumed had become totally obsolete decades ago still worked rather well. Even without power. Remember when saws came with hand grips and you didn’t have to plug them into anything? You just picked them up and sawed things? And lawn mowers the gas engines that were only “self-propelled” if you were the self-propeller? Thank goodness we saved these items from the scrutiny of the guys on “Antiques Roadshow,” at least for a while longer.

I suppose this all provides encouragement for some of us pack rats to hold onto everything that rings, beeps or buzzes, no matter how outdated it is. But given a choice between the “haves” and the “have nots” last week, it appears that the older, traditional version of things more than held their own against the new competition.

Oh, something else in the old media also worked last week quite, well, too. These things, which do not need electricity or even batteries to operate, are what we call “newspapers.” True, they don’t mix with water very well. But that’s what little plastic delivery bags are for.

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. His latest column was written under candlelight and delivered via carrier pigeon. E-mail him at: [email protected]

Similar Posts