This past weekend's snowstorm - widely and jokingly referred to as Snowmageddon 2011 or the Snowpocalypse - shut schools for a couple of days, tamped down traffic and emptied the bread aisle at the grocery store.
After a couple of days, except for lingering ice patches hiding in the shade, it was gone. A few people (too many of them) ran their cars in the ditch, and some kids (far too many of them) got in trouble for riding four-wheelers where they weren't supposed to. But overall, unpleasantries were few and life gradually returned to normal.
But what if.
We didn't have any local power outages. If we had, Georgia Power's overwhelmingly competent crews would have had them fixed before the meat in our freezers thawed. Municipal water continued to flow, and even a couple of days of panic-buying didn't put a dent in the local food supply.
But what if.
At a Columbia County government committee meeting a few weeks ago, a citizen warned commissioners about the dangers of a terrorist attack in the form of an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP.
If that happened, all electrical systems in the affected area would be disabled. No home electricity, no motorized vehicles, no electronics. No phones. No radios. No television. No printing presses, for that matter.
Those county officials politely pretended to be interested and essentially wrote off the warning as far-fetched. And, yes, it is. While an EMP - usually assumed to be generated by a nuclear explosion over a city - certainly isn't outside the realm of plausibility, low-tech attacks are far more likely from the usual terrorist suspects.
Still, anyone like me who is a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction has to be intrigued by the imagined scenarios of such events. And that brings me to a recent blog I read on a financial news site.
Titled "Things babies born in 2011 will never know," the piece listed a couple of dozen items that the writer, Stacy Johnson, believes soon will be extinct as far as the newly born generation is concerned.
Her predictions for future trends were interesting, but what really caught my attention is a disturbingly common factor in what she thinks will survive.
Children born this year, she says, will never use video or audio tape; they'll always use digital media. They won't use CDs for music; instead, they'll download it.
They'll never use a watch, a camera or the yellow pages; they'll have all that information on their smartphone, which will keep them connected at all times. Their phone or a computer also will replace printed catalogs, human travel agents, folded maps and bound encyclopedias.
So, what if? What will these super-connected, broadband-wired children do when the power goes out? And not just an outage of a few minutes, which we tolerate; or a few hours, which would frustrate; or a few days, which would cause near panic.
How would we, children and adults alike, cope with a widespread power outage lasting several weeks, or even months? What would we eat after the convenience foods are all gone and our electric stoves don't work? What would we drink if county water no longer fills the taps and the shelves of bottled water are bare?
Those children seem like little geniuses when they can retrieve obscure movie trivia at the tap of a few buttons; think they can use that dead iPhone to start a cooking fire? Could they swap their blank computer for firewood?
On that point, look at our modern houses. Just try to find a home built in the past dozen years that has an actual, working, wood-burning fireplace. Those cheery gas logs are great, but if the gas is gone, how would you heat that house?
We don't just lack survival skills; we're even losing the infrastructure for survival.
In many respects, it's comforting to be confident that we really don't have to worry about these what-ifs; they'll remain the stuff of dreary fiction novels and scary late-night cable TV, all of which are available electronically.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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