It was a Wednesday when the technology stopped. I know that because I was halfway through my weekly skype with my sister when everything went black. Weird the way memory works, I can even tell you exactly what she was wearing at the time but I don’t know what day of the week my Mum died. In my defense though, time has less meaning now. Schedules, calendars, dates, they are all archaic concepts that have fallen into disuse. They belong to before.
Nobody knows why it happened, or how. There have been plenty of theories of course; they circulated frantically in the beginning. Conspiracy theorists pointed the finger at an amorphous “Government Plot”; others were more geographically specific, railing against the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese. The corporate world blamed environmentalists, declaring it a moralistic prank gone wrong. Others claimed it was divine retribution for our excess and self-gratification. This group was ridiculed at first but its numbers grew steadily with the severity of our plight. People seemed to find it cathartic to believe we somehow deserved what had happened, self-flagellation on a grand scale. One of the most outlandish claims was that we had suffered an alien infiltration. I guess they were waiting for Yancey’s four other waves to hit. My personal favourite was the theory that we had suffered the “Pulse” from a Stephen King novel called Cell. I refrained from pointing out that we hadn’t suffered the zombie phase that followed the Pulse, people’s ability to recognise humour vanished soon after the fade. That’s what we call it around here – “the fade”. I don’t think it’s a good term myself, it sounds so gradual and graceful, like something that happened organically. The reality was sudden and brutal.
The how and why didn’t matter once things became bad. It was a long time before people realised just how bad. At first everyone assumed it was a temporary outage, a local problem. It wasn’t until people were able to travel across regions and states that we realised it was nationwide. Then came the day somebody claimed to have sailed from Europe. Ever the sophisticates, Europeans called it “the dark”. It’s impossible to know if the story was the truth. Long gone are the instant news cycle and the globalisation we had all embraced. The world is an immense, unconnected place now.
After the fade came frustration and inconvenience – no internet, no mobile phones, no electricity. Very soon we realised the other impacts, cars and trains with computers wouldn’t run, elevators and automatic doors wouldn’t work. I remember my horror when I first stumbled across plane wreckage in a remote town and the realisation struck that aeroplanes used computers too…
But frustration and inconvenience won’t kill you. It was the systemic failures that started to slowly do that. The hospital machinery that wouldn’t work. Water purification, refrigeration, heating, cooling, sanitation were all gone. Then there was the isolation. How many people lay in remote locations quietly dying? My mother wasn’t isolated. She had me. In the end it was a simple asthma attack that killed her. A nebuliser would have saved her but the innovations of our time had meant these wouldn’t work without electricity. In our drive to make life easier we had made ourselves completely beholden to technology and so, like any structure, we crumbled without our foundations. I bet there’s some Amish community in Pennsylvania thriving and vindicated right now.
At school the teachers had called us 21st century learners. They had developed us into strategic thinkers, a generation equipped to solve tomorrow’s problems with technology that didn’t yet exist. What we needed now were historians, thinkers who could solve problems using yesterday’s solutions or people old enough to remember how things had been done before technology had made everything “easier”. At night when I wait for sleep to bring me temporary relief I wonder how many years it will take before all that knowledge dies … one generation, two? And in the dark I admit to the fear that I refuse to name in the daylight – we are killing each other. The post-apocalyptic novelists were right, desperation breeds violence. I realised the breakdown in civilisation was complete the day I saw a makeshift cross erected by the side of the road, grisly scene of a haphazard crucifixion. The biblical connotations stayed with me – what form will our salvation take? I believe it will be our past that saves us. And so I move from town to town seeking yesterday. I speak to the elders who are willing and I devour what knowledge I can in the libraries that remain. It helps to fill the silence in my head. The world has a lot of silence now. I miss the noise.