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I Have My Cell Phone, So I’m Safe November 20, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.

In the safety of my home in New Hampshire (where we are no strangers to snow), I am watching the emerging largely lake-effect snowfall blanket western New York with over seven feet of snow, with more to come. And at least ten people have died, though some as the result of shoveling snow rather than getting caught in it.

And I can’t help but think that technology, which has been of enormous help in saving lives, is also making us more susceptible to dying in extreme conditions. In particular, the easy availability of cell phones makes us think that someone will always come to get us, in just about any circumstances.

Yes, people died of weather tragedies prior to the advent of easy and instant communications. The unnamed hurricane hitting Galveston, Texas in 1900 killed 6000-12,000 people, the bodies of most were never found. The New England hurricane of 1938 killed perhaps 700 people. In the early 1970s as a youth, I recall reading a harrowing account of a massive snowstorm at the Batavia Rock Cut closing the New York Thruway for days, with hundreds of cars still on it.

But we lacked not only communications technology, but the ability to forecast and communicate such extreme weather. Today we have much of that information available to us, yet still choose to take risks. Perhaps more risks than we would otherwise.

And such technology is not a panacea. I also recall the James Nance book and subsequent TV miniseries, Pandora’s Clock, where a doomsday virus kept an airliner from landing, even for medical help. An ambassador on the plane, played by Robert Guillaume, was in contact with the highest level of authority worldwide through a satellite phone. Fat lot of good it did him (Richard Dean Anderson was the hero, as he often was in MacGyver).

I am (not quite, I hope) as guilty as anyone else. I run very early in the morning, well before light, in a neighborhood known to be populated by certain wild animals. I take my cell phone with me, in a pouch. Like I will be able to make a phone call if attacked by a wild animal, or have a heart attack or encounter with an automobile. Still, I irrationally feel a little more secure with it than without.

So is there a lesson here? I think that technology such as easy communications is a cautious fallback strategy. But it doesn’t make us invincible. Sometimes the cavalry just isn’t coming, or can’t come. Even with our superior technology, Mother Nature will win, without cause and without regret.



1. Mother Nature Will Win, But Sometimes Has a Little Help | Cutting Edge Computing - November 28, 2014

[…] (otherwise known as three lies in one name) As I noted earlier, I do believe that there is little we can do when Mother Nature comes to do us harm. Mother Nature’s destructive forces are always more powerful than our attempts to mitigate […]

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