So, what did you miss? When the juice went out, so did our carefully crafted global universe and all its amenities. Yet apart from the widely circulated and possibly apocryphal tale of Christina Aguilera turning up at the front desk of her Manhattan hotel Thursday night and shrieking at the concierge because there was no air conditioning in her room, who was complaining?
Cellphones died. The Internet sputtered and stalled. Television was unplugged, and even newspapers struggled to get the ink out on time. In 2003, this surely qualifies as a national disaster, and yet most people I talked to seemed to relish the silence. It wasn't the apocalypse. It was a nice change.
For the first time in recent memory there was no incessant background chatter of cellphone calls as you walked down the street. E-mails went unsent and unanswered, and the minute-by-minute Web crawling that so many of us have become addicted to was impossible because the Web was down, and our computers wouldn't turn on anyway.
Missing: the instant images on television, the unending loop of proof that usually confirms to us that events are actually happening. Bleeding-edge high tech gave way to low tech. For a radio fan like me, this was grand news.
Out came battery-operated transistors, wind-up jobbies and shower radios. People were forced to imagine what lines of abandoned cars along the shoulders of expressways looked like. Those of us who dug out the shortwave radio got to hear the blackout from the perspective of everyone from the BBC and NPR to an old-timey revival preacher convinced it was the work of "Satan hisself."
The stories about entire hipper-than-thou downtown neighbourhoods emptying onto the street and having impromptu block parties at 11 pm are already becoming clichéd. The overriding image I'll keep (aside from the sight of a family down the street making an eight-dish Indian curry meal, complete with naan, entirely on a barbecue) was the sight of dozens of people out on the front porch, radios pressed to their ears, actually talking to each other.
People seemed engaged, not bored, and certainly not panicky that they couldn't text their friends three blocks over to see whether they had power yet.
Pointy-headed commentators tell us there are lessons to be learned from all this, that our addiction to non-stop communication is unhealthy. That might be taking things a bit far, but for a few hours the silence was beautiful.
Sure, it's good to be able to check the cricket scores again, and I took no pleasure from dumping endless blocks of cheese into the trash bin, but there's something to be said for unplugging, and having yourself unplugged once in a while.
Keeping in touch is lovely, but I'll take the stars over my cellphone any day.