Here Comes Sandy! Or, Facebook, Unplugged

Remember how quaint it used to be when rock stars like Kurt Cobain used to do a live “unplugged” set on MTV? It almost always felt more visceral than when the musicians actually plugged in all of their amps, guitars and wah-wah pedals and turned up the volume.

Turns out it doesn’t feel the same when Facebook goes, well, acoustic, courtesy of everyone’s favorite hurricane, good ol’ Sandy.  Once our power went out at about 6:30 p.m. Monday night -- thankfully, it came back at about noon today -- I needed Facebook more than ever, even as accessing it became a supreme challenge.

Not even my fully charged cell phone, courtesy of the Callpod I got from Buddy Media at August’s Social Media Insider Summit, could fight through a troika of severely damaged Verizon 4G, 3G, and 1X networks, that stubbornly refused to let crucial information flow through Moms of Pelham. What’s that, you ask? Our local Facebook repository for size 10 boys sneakers, where to get gas, free kids’ yoga classes so they don’t kill each other first, and, most importantly, who has power -- and who doesn’t.



So here’s what I’m thinking: Facebook should build a proprietary communications backbone -- separate from electric, phone and cable -- and bury it where it can’t be felled by falling trees, so next time I run out of candles, I can actually post about it, and people will actually get to read the post.

I’m kidding, of course -- wait? am I? -- but I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that just when we needed Facebook most, we couldn’t access it. Not Facebook’s fault, of course, but times like these help us realize  just how high up in the hierarchy of lifelines Facebook has become.. And yes, fans of other platforms, I am focusing on Facebook. For most of us suburban Moms – and I don’t think it’s all that different in other demos – Facebook is where our neighbors are, and the most likely place to find out what’s really going on, with a little rumor and innuendo thrown in for good measure.

The last time I was in a power outage of similar duration was during the ice storm. Yes, that Ice Storm. As it was the 1970s, the only information we got came from our neighbors, epic treks into downtown New Canaan that sometimes started by car and ended on foot, and a battery-powered radio.

And suddenly, for the most part, that’s where we were again. I first got word that power just might come back to our house today by people knocking on our door. First, it was a Village of Pelham worker who was clearing the tree that was leaning precariously against the utility pole with the huge transformer on it. He said there were suddenly Con Ed trucks all over the place

The second was the neighbor one street over, who said that Con Ed was testing all of the connections, and would soon flip the switch and see what happened. About 45 minutes later, just as I was loading the kids in the car for a charge-a-thon at our friend’s power-drenched house, the lights came on. New habits die hard, so when I heard the hum of the cable box booting up, I went into the street to see whom I could tell. My neighbors pulled in next door, and I shared the good news, face-to-face.

Later -- but not all that much later -- I went on Facebook, where I was among quite a few people who now not only had power but were opening their homes to those who did not. Which is great, except that it poses a riddle: If everyone has power, why would they need to post about letting other people use it?

Think on that, for a bit.

2 comments about "Here Comes Sandy! Or, Facebook, Unplugged".
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  1. Tara Brewer from Praetorian Group, November 1, 2012 at 6:24 p.m.

    You actually can use both Facebook and Twitter Without the Internet.

  2. Brian Hayashi from ConnectMe 360, November 1, 2012 at 6:43 p.m.

    I had a similar thought. After the Loma Prieta earthquake, it was as if the city of San Francisco came together: minimal looting, mostly good vibes as the citizenry tried to find ways to cope with the unexpected. The problem, of course, is the facilities needed to make such a thing happen, in a way that has the uptime and latency that Facebook users have come to expect.

    What makes more sense is to have someone like a Verizon or Rackspace come up with a backnet, an emergency network that automatically throttles high-bandwidth usage but facilitates smaller messages when traditional networks are down.

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