Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seeing with technology

Some months ago, I read and bookmarked this analysis of the American electric grid and the massive blackout (grid failure) in North American in 2003.  In addition to the educational value of the analysis (which suggests our grid actually is in a bit of trouble), I was intrigued with the assessment of the 2003 blackout and the summation that people monitoring the grid "simply didn't have the technology to see the big picture."

I spend a lot of time researching, using, and experimenting (okay, playing) with technology that helps me live or work more productively.  And I'm surrounded by students and peers who are, to put it kindly, technology geeks.  But, despite the critical role that technology can play, it's not always technology we need to see beyond what's right in front of us. Sometimes what we need is experience, common sense, intuition, or a willingness to collaborate with others who have pieces of the puzzle that we don't have.

This week, during the ongoing construction near my office, the cable that provides electricity to my building was cut.  With no electricity, the technology that would, one thinks, save the day was the wireless network.  With the wireless network, we could all...well, work.  But since the anticipated electric surge (when the power would be restored) was deemed a potential threat to the wireless LAN, the wireless service was disabled during the power outage.  Thus, with all the technology available to me, cutting the cable that provides electricity still left us all in the dark.

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