Editorial / When the plug is pulled on instant gratification
No one under the age of 25 will believe this, but it's true.
There was a time when, if you were away from home and needed to make a phone call, you had to find a public phone and put coins into it to make a call. And if you didn't have enough coins or nobody answered, you were flat out of luck.
There was a time when, if you wanted to see the box score from that night's ball game or check tomorrow's movie times, you had to wait for the morning paper.
There was a time when if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the movies.
And there was a time when, if the power went out, you lit a candle, turned on a transistor radio and waited.
Now, of course, everyone over the age of seven has a cellphone. We can call anyone instantly and be called instantly. But even that is so 2001.
Why talk instantly when we can text instantly, email instantly or tweet instantly -- from anywhere.
Why go to the movies when you can get the movies to come to you -- instantly. And on demand.
Technology has made us a society of right-now, instant gratification.
Maybe that is why some among us cannot summon an ounce of patience when the power goes out. There is no button to push, no 4G device to get power restored "on demand."
We have chosen to live in a coastal community, one that is especially vulnerable to severe weather -- both to nor'easters from December to March and to tropical storms and hurricanes from August to October.
After Tropical Storm Irene came crashing into Connecticut early Sunday, she left nearly a million electric customers without power -- 16,000 of them in Fairfield, about half the town.
Yes, United Illuminating Co. had plenty of warning about this one.
Yes, UI has angered town officials because its poor communication has hampered coordination of our public works crews with UI crews -- who often must first deactivate downed wires before town employees can safely clear debris.
Yes, UI has left thousands of Fairfielders in the dark -- literally after sundown and figuratively as to a timetable for restoring power to their neighborhoods. Tens of thousands in other towns served by UI share the frustration.
Yes, when everyone is plugged back in, state utility regulators should conduct a thorough investigation of UI's preparedness, its communication with municipal officials and customers and its effectiveness -- or lack thereof -- in restoring power.
So no, we are not an apologist for UI.
That said, some in Fairfield have had unreasonable expectations.
Within 24 hours of the storm hitting -- and with half the town still without power -- one woman south of the Post Road planted a sign in her front yard that read: "UIrene: Where's My Power?" She vowed to update the sign with the number of hours power remained off.
The neighborhood had lost power, but the street was open with no obstructions and there no public danger.
At that moment, scores of wires were down around town, hanging on trees or in the street, some of them live; more than two dozen roads were closed because of fallen trees or other hazards; officials' priority was to first restore power to commercial areas where people could buy food, drinking water, gasoline and other necessities.
Eight public schools -- tentatively scheduled to open the next day -- were still without power.
Yet some individuals felt entitled to leapfrog them.
Where's My Power? Not even Our power. As of Wednesday night, the woman's neighborhood was still dark while power had been restored to 10,000 other Fairfield customers. Perhaps it was one of those self-fulfilling prophesies.
Sadly, many others felt they should be first in line.
For every family with young kids who made an adventure out of it and went out for pizza, there was somebody angry because their Wi-Fi was out, they couldn't find a place to charge their smart phone and the authorities failed to recognize that they were more important than the rest of us.
Take issue with UI's response and hold the company accountable. But no matter how quickly or slowly they plug people back in, somebody gets to be first and somebody has to be last.
When misfortune strikes -- whether a simple flat tire or a major health crisis -- somebody with a sense of entitlement will ask, "Why Me?"
Someone who is truly democratic will shrug and ask, "Why not me?"
Too bad there's not an app for that.