Massucci's Take: Internet, phone outage brings 'Stone Age' to Silicon Valley

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Imagine 17 hours of no Web surfing, no cell or landline phone service. No texting, Facebook or Twitter updates.

That's what happened in Silicon Valley, of all places, yesterday. Heck, folks couldn't even get cash out of their local ATM machines to shop while their gadgets were down.

How would an event like that transform your day?

Jasmine Nguyen, hospital spokeswoman at Saint Louise Regional Hospital in Gilroy, California, said it felt like going, "back to the Stone Age." She told the San Jose Mercury News that the hospital used "runners" Thursday to bring messages from patients to their loved ones in the waiting room and to hospital staff members.

The outage occurred Thursday morning after four fiber-optic cables were cut in San Jose, California by someone who climbed down a manhole, the Associated Press reported. Hours later, in San Carlos, California, authorities reported that four more cables had been severed. Thousands were affected.

Service was restored by Thursday evening. But AT&T, whose cable lines were cut, is reportedly offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the vandalism.

This event got me thinking about how quickly some of us incorporate technology into our daily lives -- while others go on happily for years without it making a dent in their routines.

As for myself, in 2008, I didn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. Now I rarely go a day without using both. In 2006, the iPhone had yet to be introduced. Now, I hardly go an hour without using it to surf, text, e-mail, play a game, read a book or actually make a call.

Yet my in-laws still resist playing a DVD movie in favor of a VHS tape. My folks have a DVR they rarely use. They all know what a TiVo is, but haven't seen one. They feel no rush to embrace the latest technology.

And I suspect they would react to a communications outage the way some folks did in California, who were happy with a break from the progress technology has brought into our lives. Margaret Bianucci, 71, told the Mercury News that cell phones and Internet service not working hearkened back to "the way it was before, so it doesn't bother me."

Others weren't so complacent. The newspaper reported that Lori Shields went to her local Chase bank to deposit money to cover automatic payments scheduled to deduct that evening. Bank staff couldn't confirm if her money would be posted in time. Just imagine the stress she must have been feeling.

In New York, where I live, folks here are so dependent on our gadgets, we sometimes bump into others on sidewalks because we're not watching where we are going. In Washington D.C. you can use your cell phone while riding the trains underground. Great for them. Not so great for the people forced to listen to the conversation.

Some of us take our technology for granted. The Silicon Valley outage knocked out servers for places like Action Economics, which was the first significant outage for their Web site since the company was established five years ago, Action wrote in an e-mail last night.

When service runs as usual, I can check and reply to e-mail on my Apple iPhone during a short elevator ride. This morning my boss used her blackberry to send a message to folks here at work -- from inside the subway.

That's awesome stuff that wasn't possible just a few years ago. Some argue that it shortens our attention spans -- hang on, where are my keys? -- and limits our in-person communication. Many of us sit at our desks and IM or inter-office co-workers whom we sit beside.

Folks in Silicon Valley were forced to step back in time yesterday. If you had the choice, would you go back?

Anthony Massucci is a senior writer for Daily Finance. He has an iPhone, a Sony PSP, and a Nintendo DS. A blackberry is on its way and he may be getting a Kindle soon. Luckily, he has six arms.

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