Our nightmare began at 7:52 p.m. I know that because the time kept blinking from my useless phone, a vicious reminder of what had been lost between one minute and the next.
At 7:51 we were all safe and content in our own worlds, chatting with friends in distant cities, reading newspapers from around the world.
Watching cat videos.
And at 7:52 it was all gone as though it had never been.
Our Internet service had crashed.
When we recovered from our initial shock, we slunk into the kitchen, avoiding each others’ eyes as we fumbled with unfamiliar foods, unable to look up cooking instructions on line. Dinner was an awkward meal with each person staring fixedly at a screen, willing it to come back to life.
Josh finally spoke, summing up the problem in a few sad words. “It wouldn’t be so bad if it was everyone, you know? It’s just so hard to be stuck here, and know everyone else is out there, doing stuff on line.”
“Yeah,” agreed Analise. “I mean, I just ate a meal and didn’t, like, post any pictures. It kind of gives me indigestion, you know?”
"How can you even know you’ve eaten?" Josh’s words were spoken utterly without irony.
I was deeply uneasy myself, though not troubled by that particular loss. As I contemplated the time before us, I felt a darkness in front of my eyes. Was I passing out? Dying, even? We none of us knew what might become of us without the constant life-giving input from the Internet.
I realized suddenly that the darkness was external. I wasn't dying. It was just that without a glowing screen there wasn’t much light. It was night, and the night was, in fact, dark. The others were beginning to shift uncomfortably and I could tell that everyone was hovering at the brink of panic. For a moment I didn't know what to do. Then some deep memory kicked in and I stood up. Groping along the wall in the gloom, I found the switch and flipped it up.
Light filled the room. We all relaxed for a minute before we realized that the light carried with it no images besides those of ourselves.
Let me repeat: we had nothing to look at but each other.
"It wouldn't be so bad if we had a cat," Michelle said. I knew what she meant. If you couldn't have cat videos then an actual cat was the next best thing.
"If we had a cat," Mom's voice was sarcastic, and I didn't need any emoticons to tell me so, "If you had a cat it would have starved to death while you watched other people's cats on line."
Well. I ask you: was that a nice thing to say when we were all totally freaked out? But that's Mom. I wouldn't even put it past her to have caused the outage. She likes to make points like that.
"Anyway," Mom went on, "we may not get Internet back for a few days. So you might want to think about how to entertain yourselves.” Then she went to her favorite chair, took up a book—an actual book made out of paper!—and began reading.
We four looked at each other. I shrugged. “I guess we could read, too.” I flicked my phone back to life, and went to open a book I’d bought a year ago.
No Service. You must be connected to the internet to access Cloud storage.
I stared blankly, then began frantically flipping through a series of screens. Without an internet connection or phone service, which seemed to have vanished along with the internet, I couldn’t access anything. The others were in the same boat.
Mom saw our frantic efforts, and suggested mildly, “There are books and games on the shelf in the den.”
I considered Josh and the girls. These were my sisters, and a favorite cousin, and I had some dim memory that once we had known how to play together.
“I remember we played a game once,” Michelle offered tentatively. “One where we moved bits of stuff around on a board, and rolled little cubes to get numbers.”
“Yeah,” Analise answered. “And you kicked the board and mixed it all up, so we never knew who won.”
“Well, geez, I’m not a little kid anymore, Ana. I won’t do that again.”
“You cheated, Michelle,” Josh said suddenly. “I remember that.” He was the youngest of us, and the girls used to bully him a bit, before they found that the Internet offered a great deal more scope for snark.
I chose a game. It had a lot of bright colors, and seemed as close as I could find to the games we all played on our phones, where things in primary colors flew around and sparkled and stuff. Well, all of us but Josh. His games were usually camo-colored and blew things up. He eyed the game board dubiously, but went along when I encouraged them all to it a try.
It seemed to go well enough, until Analise started to win. Then Josh, looking around for something he could blow up and regain the lead, realized that there was nothing like that in this game. The pieces just sat where they were put.
“It’s all luck!” he shouted. “Just lousy luck, unless you’re cheating, as usual!”
I tried to calm them, but I couldn’t remember how. It might have been okay if I could have texted them, but that wasn’t an option.
In the end, Mom had to dump a bucket of cold water over Josh, and another over Analise, before they would stop fighting. Then she made us all mop up the mess, and yelled at us, a lot of stuff about getting along and pulling our heads out of our devices and learning to work together.
Really, Mom ought to learn to Tweet. We might have been able to listen to 140 characters.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2017
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