Like most of my fellow Connecticutians, I have been wandering the Nutmeg State since Sunday in search of warmth, electricity, and an internet connection—in that order. I found warmth at a friend’s house thanks to his fireplace, and on Monday morning after checking in on my grandmother I headed to the mall, which never lost power. I, along with much of the greater Hartford area, was looking for free WiFi and a plug to charge my various devices.
I was out of luck.
The line out of the Starbucks was so long I didn’t even bother to stop for a chai latte, and instead I started walking up and down the aisles, stepping over teenagers without school and past their parents who were either sick of being stuck at home with them, or were trying to work. The children’s section was filled with adults, sprawled out around low, brightly colored tables with laptops and iPads (and sometimes both).
The first free outlet I found was outside the actual store in the mall. As I sat down on the floor in front of the pillar and outlet a mattress salesman emerged from his store to warn me that the outlet did not work—he’d been watching people sit down, plug-in, and then leave disappointed all morning. I should have known it was too good to be true. My laptop had some battery power left, however, and I was able to get onto the WiFi so I stayed put… until I realized that the hundreds of people who had the same idea I did were bogging down the connection.
Simply trying to open an email was a minutes-long process. I headed back into the store and plunked down in front of a bunch of Star Trek novels. Getting closer to the source of the WiFi didn’t help. Despite the spotty cell service (thanks to multiple towers down across the state) it was easier and quicker to send emails on my iPhone than it was from my computer.
Eventually I gave up. Tuesday I woke up with a renewed sense of purpose—even though I was still camping out on a floor in front of a fireplace. My friend had gotten his power back during the night and I was hopeful that meant he had cable and internet as well. No dice.
So I went and sat in line for gas before heading to check on my grandmother again. On my way to her house I saw that her community had power back in the town center, and that stoplights were working closer and closer to her house. She still didn’t have electricity but I was able to grab a bagel and some counterspace (and an outlet!) at the downtown Starbucks and get back to work.
As I watched my fellow refugees, and heard their tales of woe I got to thinking about the perils of working in the cloud. One woman could not log on to her office’s secure network over the very un-secure public network at Starbucks. I watched one guy pace back and forth in the parking lot on a very long cell phone call—which I later found out was a conference call.
Meanwhile, I slogged through the emails that I hadn’t gotten through the day before. I started downloading EContent boards, making a list of author corrections, and building a folder of documents to edit offline. I knew access to the cloud infrastructure I’ve built to be able to do my job from anywhere at any time was, well, not guaranteed. Eventually, the Starbucks crew would kick me out and I’d have to work the old fashioned way.
Somewhere during that time my grandmother got power back—but my house was still dark, and cold. So I spent the night there, reading boards and inputting corrections at the dinner table. And I was even able to send the files back to the ITI staff in Medford, NJ via Dropbox thanks to her internet connection.
About 98% of the time I am immeasurably grateful for the convenience of cloud computing. It allows me to work from home, which allows me to live near my friends and family rather than near an office. But when the power and internet fail, and the cell towers go down I hardly know what to do with myself—and clearly many of my neighbors don’t either.