My mother, a widow, remarried on November 9, 1965. At the time, we were living in a suburb north of New York City. I was a young teen and what I remember most coincides with another significant event that day: The Great Northeastern Blackout, affecting 25 million people in seven states. Somehow my new stepfather found a restaurant in New Jersey that had auxiliary power and we were able to go out for a celebratory dinner.
The blackout was mostly met with general good humor, epitomized in Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, a comedic movie starring Doris Day released in 1968. (The title of the movie inspired the title of this post.)
On July 13, 1977, another widespread blackout occurred, affecting New York City and some of the surrounding area. I was there for that one, too. By then I was a young married woman living in Chelsea and working midtown. The power outage continued through the next day and my husband and I took advantage of the unexpected day off by going to Jones Beach.
Several months later, it was apparent not everyone opted to leave the city for the day. I remember that by the end of the year a common sight on the city streets were women with swollen bellies. A popular maternity top was adorned with with a big arrow pointing down to the baby bump with “Blackout Baby” in large, block letters.
On the day of the blackout, however, sweltering temperatures led to an uncomfortable day for much of New York. Many residents did not enjoy the good fortune that I had with a car in the city and opportunity to escape. And, unlike the congenial atmosphere of the Great Blackout 12 years earlier, the city was beset by episodes of looting and arson.
At the time, the city was in a dark era of rising poverty and in the throes of the terrifying Son of Sam serial murders, which contributed to the explosive criminal eruptions.
Starting to sound like a more familiar world yet?
Of course in those days, we were not yet primed to fear terrorist invasions or suspect cyber attacks.
Fast forward to October 4, 2021. Facebook and all its companies, including WhatsApp and Instagram, went dark. Once you figured out it wasn’t you or your device that was doing something wrong, you may have guessed or gotten word that Facebook was down, all the way down. At every company it owns, the physical locations went dark, employees were unable to access servers, go in or out of secure areas, and repair was delayed due inability to get inside physical or virtual servers. Neither remote nor location-based employees could do a thing.
Facebook business users were disrupted, unable to communicate with customers in their closed groups or distribute information via ads or Facebook events. Small businesses were particularly affected because of heavy dependence on advertising and Facebook pages for customer support and interaction.
Social users may not have been affected in the pocketbook, but it was a wake-up call for many who only realized the degree of their dependence on the platform once it disappeared. I include myself in this group. Despite the fact that I have decreased my usage dramatically in recent months, I felt the momentary kind of loss I experience when I lose electricity or internet access. Although not long-lasting, a distinct feeling of uncomfortable isolation set in.
I don’t spend much time at all on Facebook anymore, but it is a daily dose of connection with the outside world. Especially with Joe gone and the decrease of the social activity I used to enjoy pre-pandemic, I initially felt isolated and flashed to wondering how I could connect, if needed.
Of course, I almost instantly realized I had my phone, and everything else on the internet was working just fine. So I made lunch and got back to work, almost forgetting about it until later in the evening when on a Zoom call, someone announced they had received notice that Facebook was back online. Ho hum, the call went on.
The incident did get me thinking, though, about my reliance on a single source (and one I don’t even like) for connection. I don’t have everyone’s phone number for texting or even email address for sending messages. Although I may have signed up for other networks, I rarely use them.
I don’t like feeling trapped or dependent on anyone or anything. It’s been in the back of my mind to explore other ways to connect with friends and find additional places to publish my work. The glitch on Monday was my “sign” that it’s time to get serious about the search and move that item up in priority on the to-do list.
I’ve been a reader on Medium and registered in its writer’s program for several years, although I’ve yet to post anything. I have an almost ambivalent feeling about the site. I was excited to find it and planned to use it as an alternative to a website for my writing, but something (an icky inner feeling) stifled those inclinations. As time went on, I liked it less and less.
Then I realized that similar to every web-based publication or network, Medium was showing me articles based on my usage. Once I unfollowed some writers and began to follow others covering different topics, I began to find the articles more interesting—similar to what I do on Facebook: unfollow or unfriend people who post offensive material and interact more with those I feel something in common. That one act alone has shifted the energy of my feeds on both platforms.
I am empowered by taking control over media and other outside influences in my life. It’s easy to get caught up in feeling that someone or something has power over you, but I’ve found that no one can control you without your permission. It’s not an original idea. Someone already said something very similar:
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent— Eleanor Roosevelt
I plan to expand to Medium very soon, and I’ll be sure to include a link in this newsletter when I do. I’ll also keep my eye out for additional sources of connection and publication to increase the potential damage-control over one network’s influence on my life and work.
Invitation to give feedback
I’d love to hear how going almost a day without Facebook affected you—or didn’t. Did you suspect foul play or possible cyber attack? Were you nervous or uncomfortable? How about a bit smug that even the powerful internet giant could have connection issues? Were you unaware of the problem?
Also, if you have a favorite site on the internet where you go to read the works of multiple authors, let me know. Maybe it would be a good fit for me, too.
You can comment below or send me an email, but please do let me hear from you.
One more question…
Did you read last week’s post, What’s in YOUR Toolbox, Part 3? (No penalties if you didn’t.)
If not, consider this a heads-up that I’m offering free tarot and oracle card readings with the additional bonus that all volunteers will be entered in a drawing to receive a new copy of Rebecca Campbell’s Starseed Oracle card deck. There are limited spaces for readings and about one-third have already been secured. So, if interested, don’t delay. Sign up here.
Image: Dancing with the Stars ©Gemignani.
Text ©Shelley Lieber
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