Column: Irene may force us to actually interact with one another

08/26/2011 8:58 AM |

On Tuesday morning I boarded a plane headed for Florida knowing full well a hurricane was headed my way.

Awaiting me in the land of many swamps was a car my grandmother had offered me now that she is no longer driving. At 12 years old with just over 40,000 miles on it, it’s the kind of car you can only get from Florida, where residents live in 55-and-over minimum security prisons and they watch “Murder She Wrote” more often than they drive.

From the moment I arrived Monday, the looming hurricane was all anyone talked about in Florida. Television stations kept breaking into programming for frequent Irene updates. All the local high schools moved their football games up from Friday to Wednesday in anticipation of the storm.

Most of the people I talked to as I made my way up the coast seemed genuinely worried about the impact of the hard-charging hurricane. Me? I had a revelation that made me excited about one aspect of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish nobody harm. The last thing I want to see is human injury or damage to homes and businesses. But as I sat eating dinner Thursday night in Fayetteville, N.C. it occurred to me the storm could do some good for us.

As I chomped on my steak, I peeked over at the family sitting opposite me. There was a mother, father and young son, and for the first 20 minutes the only peep I heard from them was the noise made from their fingers furiously typing away on their smartphones.

I thought to myself, “What will this family do if they are without power for a prolonged period of time during the storm this weekend?”

Will they have to, gulp, speak to each other?

That’s when I began to feel a little better about the storm. It may actually force us humans to interact with each other for the first time since Steve Jobs became CEO of Planet Earth.

Of course, I myself am guilty of spending more time interacting with glowing rectangles than I do with friendly faces. Sometimes Facebook is the only face I actually see. But it wasn’t always this way.

This weekend, many kids like the one seated next to me in North Carolina, will be given a history lesson if they lose power. And the rest of us will be taken back to our youths.

I can actually remember not owning a home computer when Hurricane Gloria hit in 1985. We were still months away from purchasing our Commodore 64. An apple was merely something we ate, and the letter “i” primarily served as a pronoun.

In those days we had a lime green rotary phone in the house that, if you can believe it kids, plugged into the wall. It never dropped calls and it made a buzzing noise that warned us when our friends were too busy to talk. The only texts we ever read were in books and newspapers, a pair of mediums I’m told still exist on some level today. The only time we ever used kindle was when we went on camping trips.

Our television sets had so few channels on them, we’d be tired by the time we reached PBS on channel 13. Or that might have just been the public programming putting us to sleep.

Our cars depended on us to tell them how to get where they were going in those days, and not the other way around.
This weekend Irene could remind us how we all once passed the time.

We looked each other in the eyes and told stories. We read books. We played games that didn’t require an electrical outlet.
We didn’t go off into our own separate distractions, but rather we stuck together.

I can recall helping my old man tape up the windows on our back porch in the hours before Gloria hit.

When the lights went out, we weren’t too scared because we had each other. We lit candles and huddled up in the living room.
The next morning, the sun came up and we learned the storm had passed with no damage to us or our home.

It was actually kind of nice.

So as I continue driving up the coast this week to return in time for what could be the worst storm to hit Long Island in decades, I find some solace in knowing one thing:This weekend we may be reintroduced to a lifestyle that was once all we know. We might even be reintroduced to each other.