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Living with Technology / When technology we depend on fails

My wife has a saying about kids who goof around, sometimes too robustly: It's fun until it isn't.

What that means is that it's really fun to roughhouse until someone gets hurt. Then it's not fun anymore.

Technology is that way, too. It's really fun to use lots of cool gadgets and gizmos until we become dependent upon them and then they don't work.

In my home, I sometimes have trouble with my network or WiFi, and it's a real pain when it doesn't work. Compounding the issue is that both of my children typically need the network and/or WiFi to do their homework, so it's essential that it work.

But last week, I was at a conference where the heroic airline pilot Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger spoke. You may recall Capt. Sully as the pilot who, on a cold afternoon in January 2009, took off from La Guardia airport and within seconds ran into a flock of birds that crippled both of his jetliner's engines.

In the next 209 seconds, Sully had to make hundreds of decisions, and he safely landed the aircraft in the Hudson River near lower Manhattan.

The loss of both engines is a rare occurrence, but it clearly can happen.

In this case, Capt. Sully indicated that it was years of experience, training and teamwork that allowed him and the first officer (co-pilot) to make decision after decision that resulted in all passengers and crew surviving.

Here in Westport, we have dealt with some fairly substantial technological outages. Hurricane Sandy, for example, had people without power for days. Without power, our appliances such as refrigerators, heaters and air conditioners don't work.

A power outage also causes us to lose services like Internet, which we use for not only email communications, but making telephone calls and entertainment.

It's a good practice to know what you would do without some of the basic technologies that we have.

Many homes have contingencies such as generators to keep essential systems functioning. Other people can live "off the grid" for a few days, although keeping a home warm in the winter or cool in the summer may prove challenging.

Personally, one of the reasons I like going camping is that the electronics stay off. Not only do I like being away from the electronics, but it helps my family and me know that we can do without all of the comforts of home for a few days.

I hope that I will never be put in a true life or death situation like Capt. Sully. But I am prepared for much more pedestrian situations such as a power outage. Read Full Article 

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org

Mark Mathias

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