Commentary

A Charged Dependence

A cacophony of ominous sounds arose out of last weekend’s storm. Last Sunday, I awoke to blaring sirens and was followed by the whirs of wood chippers each time I crossed the main quad. It was the haunting silence of Sunday evening, however, that unnerved me the most.

The fragility of our Andover lifestyle suddenly struck me. Our society has become so dependent on electricity that if we were to lose it indefinitely we would be helpless. The boundary between our lives of luxury and the harsh conditions of the undeveloped world resides merely in the power lines suspended above our heads.

Consider all that we would lose if the US was taken off the grid. Our main forms of communication, favorite types of entertainment, most effective means of commerce and all of our efficient tools for work would be lost. Our current cultural and political systems would hold little value as they have been evolving with and have become dependent on technology. The military would go offline, leaving the nation vulnerable. Kill the lights, and you have deeply wounded society.

I offer these extreme examples not to cause worry but to illustrate the level of reliance we place upon our technology. After years of reaping the benefits of electric machinery, we have become too reliant on electricity. Our presumptions about electricity are evident when we still reach for the light switch even if we know the power is out.

This expectancy that electricity will always be present worries me. When something as trivial as a snowstorm can trip us up, I begin to question the complacency we have with our lives. Have we not, in efforts to improve the quality of our lives, created our greatest vulnerability?

The comedian Carrie Snow touched on this vulnerability when she said, “Civilization is hideously fragile, and there’s not much between us and the horrors underneath, just about a coat of varnish.”

Our society would be exceedingly susceptible to invasion, disease and internal conflict if it weren’t for the advancement of modern technology. During sporadic power outages we become lost, seemingly without purpose, awaiting the moment the power comes back on. In the event of losing electricity indefinitely, the drastic change in lifestyle would demand such a degree of adaptation that it seems unlikely that many would adjust successfully.

Despite these drastic consequences of our dependence on electricity, I do not believe there should be any immediate response. Any possible problems that our dependence may cause appear, at least at the moment, quite distant.

Nonetheless, I still stand by the fact that it should be recognized that our way of life is dangerously dependent on several unpredictable factors. Yet we cannot try to protect ourselves against all negative outcomes, or progress will be transcended by fear. We cannot live our lives always trying to avoid the dark; rather, we must live as if there is no darkness, regardless of the fact that it might be a power outage away.

Makenzie Schwartz is a two-year Lower from Bradford, Mass.