BY FRANK TERRANELLA
While many continue to suffer, Hurricane Sandy is just a memory for most of us now. But the one effect that just about everyone experienced was a loss of electricity. For some, it was just a day or two. For others, it was weeks. In my case, my house was without power for 54 hours. The signs of electronics withdrawal manifested themselves almost immediately.
Back in 1976, I wrote a piece for The New York Times about what I saw at the time as an addiction to electronic devices. This was before cell phones, MP3 players and even VCRs. The first commercially available personal computer, the Apple II, would not be introduced until the next year. So the electronic items I was writing about in 1976 were basics like televisions, radios and lights. The more exotic electrical uses were electric can openers, electric vacuum cleaners, electric ovens and electric toothbrushes. In my 1976 article, I labeled people who are addicted to electricity as “electroholics.”
Today, the loss of electricity is a very different matter. No electricity means no Internet, no DVD player, and no home phone service (since the phones now run on house current). We had a battery-operated radio during our Sandy blackout, so we could get news. But that was about it for electronic entertainment. Fortunately, today, we now have battery-operated telephones and iPads. But since the charge in these devices is quickly depleted, and there is no way to recharge them without electricity, we used them sparingly. I used the iPad to access e-mail, and the cell phone to talk with relatives.
What I immediately noticed during our Sandy blackout, was that my 20-something children were more put-out about the loss of electricity than I was. Their entire world requires electricity. They are true electroholics. My wife and I took the opportunity to catch up on reading books, magazines and newspapers that were sitting around the house. My son paced the house like a caged animal. Occasionally, he went out to his car and ran the motor to: (a) listen to music, and (b) charge his phone.
Based on what I saw, I would say that being 59 was an advantage during the blackout. Since I was not born into a world with computers and the Internet, losing them didn’t mean as much to me as it did to my kids. I could take the opportunity to unplug and actually enjoy that (for a while). Since the blackout did not affect our hot water or our stove, the deprivation was purely electronic.
So has the incidence of “electroholism” increased or decreased since 1976? I think it has undoubtedly increased. We have so many more electronic gadgets that we use every day. Back in 1976 I wrote:
“There are steps you can take to ward off electroholism. The next time you have an urge to watch television, read a book instead – by candlelight. If the stereo beckons, play the piano. If we make an effort to wipe out electroholism, the next blackout may not even be noticed. The trick is to ward off dependency by occasional abstinence. Some of us can hold our electricity better than others.”
I think the advice is still sound. It’s healthy to unplug from electronics every once in a while. My wife and I stayed at Glacier National Park in Montana a few years ago, and while there was electricity, there was no television and no cell phone service. We griped about it at the time, but looking back I think it was good practice for the blackout. In any case, it made for a relaxing vacation.
I think many people today, and particularly many young people, are electroholics, and the 2013 version of the disease is far worse than in 1976, when I first identified it. We consume more electricity than ever, and we love our electronic gadgets more than ever. The spell of Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, is still as strong today, as it was in 1976. But being in your 50s means that you remember a time before these “indispensable” electronics. And that makes it easier to cope when you lose access to them. It’s still true that some of us can hold our electricity better than others.