Thursday, June 14, 2012

Days of Electricity

Note: The following is a short SF story I wrote a few months back, based on the premise of what would happen in the world, if we had no electricity.

Days of Electricity
I still remember that day, E-day, Sunday, August 23th, 2026, and even the hour - it was 2:37 PM, Eastern Standard Time - when the power went out.  I suppose all of us "old-timers" remember that date pretty clearly.  It was the day everything changed.

It was a hot day - a real scorcher - and like everyone else, I was concerned about how much electricity I was using.  They metered it back then, just like gas is metered today.  I remember working on my computer, writing a letter, as I am writing to you now, when the power went out.

That wasn't uncommon for that era.  We had power outages, and they were inconvenient.   But usually the power came back on within a minute or two, or at most, after an hour or so.  Maybe once in a great while, we'd have a hurricane or a storm that would put the power out for days.  But that was rare.

And initially, I remember being annoyed at the inconvenience, at losing the data in the letter I was writing and thinking about what to do until the power came back on.   But after a few minutes, it became clear that this was not a short interruption, and you tend to find other things to do - read a magazine or a book.  And as you walk around the house, you absentmindedly turn on switches, so used to you are of power, that you fail to realize they don't work.  And then you try the television, and kick yourself for trying.

After a half-hour of this, I was getting a little concerned.  After all, the food in the refrigerator would start to go bad, and the house, without air conditioning, was getting warm.  I figured I had better call the power company to report the outage, in case it was localized.  I found the number in the phone book and tried to call, but the phones were all dead.  Maybe someone hit the utility pole with their car, I thought.  I even tried my cell phone, but that was dead as well.  I must have forgotten to charge it.

I figured I'd see my neighbor and find out if he had power, so I walked next door.  He was on the front lawn, looking up and down the street.  "Damnedest thing," he said, "my cell phone doesn't work, either!  In fact, nothing electrical in my house seems to work.  Not even the car!"

His wife was in her car, trying the motor.  She shook her head, "Nothing, not even a click!"

I ran back to my house to check as well, running from room to room, looking for battery powered appliances - digital watches, cell phones, video games, e-readers, portable radios.  All dead, and quite thoroughly so.  As if someone had removed the batteries.  I tried to start my car, but like my neighbor's, it did not make so much as a click.

I went back to the neighbor's house, as it seemed there would be safety in numbers, and I reported breathlessly that nothing in my house worked, either.  A few of the other neighbors started to gather.  My neighbor, Norm was head of the block's neighborhood watch, and he was a former Marine.  So I guessed we kind of looked to him for guidance.

A few of the fellows decided to try to push-start Norm's old Jeep.  They pushed it out onto the road, and got it rolling, while Norm dumped the clutch.  Nothing.  It was like the battery was dead flat, Norm said.

What was odd, too, was that there was no other car traffic on the street.  I mean, we live on a fairly quiet residential street, but usually there are a few cars going by.  But today?  Nothing.

Jim, my other neighbor, pointed to the horizon.  "Smoke!" he said.  And sure enough, a tall plume of black smoke was billowing out in the direction of the airport.  We were all starting to become concerned.  What was going on?  A terrorist attack?  And moreover, what could we do?

We would not find out for over a year what actually happened on E-day.  All we knew was that, at one precise instant, that day, everything electrical on planet Earth, died and stayed dead, and would remain that way, for the rest of our lives.  I've read the reports since then, how supposedly our solar system passed through some kind of cloud of interstellar subatomic particles - hundreds of light-years across.  According to scientists, we may not emerge from this cloud for hundreds of years - perhaps a thousand.

What the particles do, apparently, is act as a damping field to electrons, particularly in high-frequency circuits.  They act as a giant ground-plane, shorting out signals almost immediately and almost completely.  The most enormous dynamos were reduced to the power of a flashlight.  A nuclear reactor could barely generate enough electricity to light a 60-watt bulb.  But for some reason, electrical signals in the brain were not affected, perhaps because they involve organic matter.  And perhaps one day, electricity will come back, if scientists can develop organic conductors.

But in the meantime, we are without electricity.  Yes, you are used to that today, and we've managed to survive.  But those early years were not without peril.  Billions of people would die before mankind figured out how to adapt to a non-electric world, and here we are, 50 years later, and it seems as if we've found ways to survive.  But it was not always thus.

The black cloud on the horizon was the result of a jet plane crash near the airport.  When the electricity died, those in airplanes were the first victims.  While a jet engine can run without electricity, back then, airplanes had electric fuel pumps, electronic instruments and even "fly by wire" controls, as well as something called "Full Authority Digital Engine Control".  Once electricity died, planes fell out of the air, one by one.  Those above land crashed into houses, factories, and even shopping malls.  Emergency equipment largely was unable to respond.  Fires raged.

Aircraft flying over the oceans disappeared without a trace.  Within the first hour of E-day, over a quarter-million people, worldwide, fell out of the sky.  But safe in our suburban neighborhood, we were unaware of this, yet.  And death had yet to come to our street or our lives.

In the cities, things were worse.  People stuck in elevators, workers forced to climb down dozens of flights of stairs.  People stuck in dark, crowded subway cars, in tunnels far below ground, trying to feel their way home with little more than cigarette lighters and improvised torches made from torn strips of clothes.

While radios and telephones were quite out of order, folks in the city quickly realized that guns still worked.  Crime became rampant.

But in Suburbia, things were quite a bit calmer.  At first, the people gathered on my street were nervous, but soon, it started taking on the atmosphere of a party.  We were all chatting and wondering what was going on.  But eventually, panic set in, as we realized that loved ones were missing - on their way home from work, or at the mall shopping.  And we had no way to reach them.

I went to my backyard shed and found my old mountain bike.  It had been months since I had ridden it.  I pumped up the tires with my hand pump, and sprayed the chain generously with WD-40.  Loading up with a water bottle and a backpack with some more water and a snack, I set out to find my wife Jane, who was supposed to be at the grocery store.

I waved goodbye to the neighborhood gang as I rode down the street, and they laughed and waved, and several others thought about getting their bikes out of storage as well.  It was the only way to get around, at the time.

Once I hit the main cross-street, I started seeing the cars - abandoned cars, everywhere.  Well, not abandoned, but stalled on the street, with their owners looking under the hood and scratching their heads.  Groups of people gathered in a silent knots, trying to understand what was going on.

I stopped at one group, as Nancy, the wife of one of my bowling team partners, was there.  She was concerned about her husband, Frank, who had gone to the office today to get caught up on some work.  She was with a group of her neighbors, doing about the same thing I was, until a few moments ago.  One of them, a real blowhard I didn't care for, was blathering on about electromagnetic pulses, and how this could be the result of a neutron bomb.  That got everyone panicked, and I didn't see the point of that.  If this was an invasion, it was a pretty piss-poor one.  I pointed out to him that if it were a neutron bomb, the pulse would have been short-lived.  Be he would have none of that.

I pedaled on toward the mall.  Cars were strewn everywhere, and it was a chore to zig-zag around a lot of them.  There were actually relatively few accidents when the power went out.  Most cars just died, and the drivers had to struggle to move them off the road, as they slowed to a halt.  There were a few crashes, I saw, where people panicked when the steering got stiff and the brakes hard.  But mostly fender-benders, and few fatalities.  Ironically, E-Day did not claim many road victims.

I went by our corner grocery store, and a few people were starting to panic and trying to stock up on goods.  The grocery clerk complained that she could not sell anything "until the power came back on" and the cash register could be used.  Some were arguing with her loudly, others were walking off with armloads of goods.  It had only been an hour or two, and it was starting to get ugly.

I grabbed some cans of food.  I can't remember what, I was in such a daze.  And I remember I grabbed a can opener, too.  I wrote down the prices of everything and handed the embattled clerk the list and a $20 bill.  "I'm taking these things, but I'm paying for them.  I'm not stealing."  I looked her in the eye, and she replied, "OK, go ahead."

I had not locked my bicycle, as I had assumed, from my experiences so far, that people would act rationally and calmly.  But as I came outside, I saw someone about to throw a leg over it.  I ran toward them and swung the grocery bag, neatly clocking him on the head with the canned goods, which knocked him over.  I grabbed the bike and pedaled away.  The bag didn't break, and once I was away, I transferred the goods to my knapsack.

While things in suburbia were getting tense, they were starting to unravel the world over.  And within a few hours, in many countries, particularly where it was after dark, the looting and violence started.  People quickly realized that the police were powerless without radios, telephones, and squad cars.  Mayhem ensued.  And ordinary, law-abiding citizens became concerned about the availability of foodstuffs, and added to the looting.  Before long, shots were fired.  People started to die.

Out on the oceans, many cruise ships stopped dead in the water.  With no way to get under way, or even steer their ships if they could, they sat, motionless, without air conditioning, running water, a dwindling supply of food, and no one to rescue them.  Some drifted ashore, weeks later, others were not seen for years.  Some older merchant ships, which ran on diesel or steam turbine power, without extensive electronic controls, were able to keep underway, navigating by magnetic compass and sextant.  Still others were able to keep running, but lost all their steering gear, heading straight on a single course until they struck land.  Tens of thousands more died at sea this way, often starving to death in the most horrible of conditions.

But none of that was on my mind as I pedaled toward the mall.  More and more cars clogged the roads, and getting around them was an exercise in agility.  Compounding the problem was that many had left their car doors open, blocking the path between cars.

I was almost at the mall, when I nearly got run over.  Through this sea of disabled cars, an aging Mercedes diesel sedan was slowly edging around.  I was shocked, assuming that all cars had died as a result of whatever the mysterious phenomenon was.  But then it hit me, those old Mercedes diesels had mechanical fuel injection, and a mechanical fuel pump.

I had had one in college, quite old and beat up, and at one time, coming home from a bar, I was unable to even shut the damn thing down.  It turned out later the next day (I had let the car run all night long, I was that drunk) that a vacuum line from the ignition switch to an intake air cutoff valve had worked loose.  Reconnect the line, and the valve closed, shutting down the engine.

I flagged down the driver, who turned out to be someone I recognized from my neighborhood, Paul.  "Paul, what's up?" I said.  "I dunno," he replied, "everyone's car has died but mine.  I can't even shut this one off!" and as if to demonstrate, he turned the key on and off, while the Mercedes diesel continued its grumbling.

"And it won't shut off." I replied.  I told him to pop the hood and showed him the lever for the air intake cutoff.  "But don't shut it off until you get home, it won't re-start."

"Really?  Why?" he asked.

"Because the battery is dead and the starter won't work.  Try your headlights."

He did and they didn't work, nor did the horn or wipers.  "You'd better get home before dark.  Good Luck!" and I pedaled off.

I don't know how I was able to spot her, but I did.  I saw Jane, walking in a steady stream of shoppers, away from the mall, all heading home after they realized that their cars were not going to run, and the autoclub wasn't coming - ever.

I cut across four lanes, for the first time doing so safely on a bicycle.  The only cars I had to dodge were stationary ones.  "Jane!  Jane!" I called, and she looked up at me and smiled a smile of relief.  I pedaled over and we hugged.

"What is going on?" she said, "I tried to reach you by cell phone, but it doesn't work!  Nobody's seems to work!  Nothing!"  She was clearly shook up.

I tried to be calming, as much as I could, and not reveal the fears that were beginning to percolate in the back of my mind.  Things were getting ugly at the corner convenience store already.  How long would it be before full-fledged riots broke out?  I suspected that it would not be soon - after dark, which was only a few hours away.

"Hop on, we need to get home!" I said.  We tried several different positions, until she was able to sit on the handlebars and wrap her arms around mine.  I gripped the handgrips in a death grip.

On the way home, I told her about the convenience store and the food I bought.  She said that the food in the refrigerator would still be good, provided we didn't open the door, but we should eat that first.  And we had a few cases of canned goods in the basement, that we had gotten at the wholesale club the month before - in anticipation of our trip to our cabin out West.  That trip, alas, was never to be.

We got home around dusk, and the streets were deserted.  The groups of chatty neighbors had dissipated.  Most houses had their curtains closed and blinds drawn.  I could see several flutter as we went by, and inside eyes glanced furtively out at us.

When we got home, I put the bike in the garage where my wife's car used to be.  I would get her bike out tomorrow.  I set out and immediately locked all the doors in the house, and went to the small safe in my office and found my handgun.  It had been given to me by my late father, who worked as a security guard, and Jane had told me to sell it - and I was planning to.  I was glad I hadn't.

Dad had left it, along with his cleaning supplies and a large box of ammo.  It would be a long night, with little more than a few candles to keep us company.

Fortunately, our travails were not going unnoticed in Washington, and I have to say, no small debt of gratitude is owed to President Henderson.  It was chaos in Washington, as you might expect.  Several airliners on approach to National Airport augured into the Potomac, as did others at Dulles and BWI.  The Pentagon was convinced that a terrorist attack was underway, but had no way to communicate with troops, launch aircraft, missiles - anything.  America was completely defenseless.  Fortunately, so was every other country on the earth.

The President was able to gather some wiser heads and scientists and parse things out.  It seemed that we would be without juice for some time.  And once the initial rioting and citizen unrest was over, there would be the long-term problem of feeding a nation of 350 million people - or however many were left.

Fortunately, some of the older National Guard trucks were still running, as they had been designed to withstand an electromagnetic pulse attack.  With mechanical injection, mechanical fuel pumps, and a compressed air starter motor, they didn't need any electricity to run.  They were difficult to start, however, without glow plugs.

The President ordered every last truck to be rounded up, and mobilized the National Guard.  The first order of business was to restore order, clear the roads of the derelict cars, and commence delivery of foodstuffs from warehouses to stores.

The next step was to mobilize industry and agriculture for a post-electronic world.  Many diesel-powered tractors could be converted to compressed air starters and propane-fired glow plugs.  Acetylene lamps could be used for headlights.  But factories would have to be reworked with steam or diesel powerplants to run machinery from overhead shafts.  It was a daunting task, but President Henderson, being an Engineer, saw it all at once and started a national crash program of energy conversion - from electrical to mechanical.

And of course, this included our defense as well.  Defense contractors scrambled to develop jet fighters with mechanical fuel pumps and old-style "steam gauges".  Missiles were re-worked with old-style mechanical gyros.  Even nuclear weapons were redesigned to work without the aid of electricity, although some weapons, such the howitzer-fired battlefield nukes, worked just fine as-is.

If not for his foresight, we probably wouldn't be where we are today.  I just bought a new 2076 Chevrolet, and I have to say, it is a pretty neat piece of mechanical engineering.  Diesel powered, with acetylene headlamps and taillights, and even air conditioning.  And I have, in my house, an absorption-type gas powered refrigerator that works about as well as my old electric ever did.  But I do miss the phone, and the radio, and my computers, even though they are becoming a dim memory.

Other countries - indeed continents, were not so lucky.  America is one of the few countries to export food, so we were in no danger of starving.  Millions were killed in the inner city riots, as the National Guard, sent out with orders to shoot-to-kill, did its job.  Without the media or radio communications, local commanders often did as they saw fit.  It is only decades later that we are learning the harsh truth of those years.

And the civil wars that erupted in some parts of the country - harshly put down by the military - killed millions more.  Many Christians were convinced that these were the end times, and attempted to "purge" their communities of "sinners."  The population of the United States plummeted to less than 250 million.

But in Africa, widespread famine erupted.  And many religious zealots, convinced this was a sign of God's wrath, engaged in religious wars that killed off the few who had not starved.

We tried to send food, but by the time ships were launched capable of running without electricity, so many had died.  And when the first ship reached the African continent, there were riots in the port, and the crew killed and the ship damaged beyond repair.  No second ship was sent, for many years thereafter.

I had thought I had made a poor career choice, as a Mechanical Engineer.  But suddenly, I found myself in high demand.  Pneumatic and hydraulic controls would be needed to run everything, from airplanes to elevators.  It was a month after E-day that I received a letter telling me to report to the local Army base to join the Army Corps of Engineers.

We had survived that first harrowing night in the dark, by ourselves.  We heard nothing, except the occasional gunshot in the distance, which turned out to be nervous neighbors convinced they were about to be looted.  By the second night, we had decided to stick together as a neighborhood group.  We lit a large bonfire on Norm's front lawn, and the spirit of camaraderie took over where suspicion and fear left off.

Norm was really a stand-up guy, as our block captain, and as he explained it, if we don't stick together as a neighborhood, and as a country, we would be in for a lot of trouble.  We would pool our resources and share food and work this thing out.  And in short order, we were cooking communal meals, first in Norm's back yard, and then moving to other resident's houses, as Norm's wife complained about all the mess.

The men chipped in together and dug outhouses for each home, hand sawing planks and hammering in nails, the old-fashioned way.  And other neighbors from adjoining neighborhoods joined in.

It was two weeks later, just as we were running out of food, that the National Guard truck showed up, with cases of government surplus food, bags of rice and corn, and cases of Meals-Ready-to-Eat.  It gave us hope - not only that we would not starve to death, but that civilization might endure.

And when the mail started again, life seemed to return to normal.  The first carrier came to our neighborhood on a bicycle, delivering mail several months old, along with a message from the President, that we were all supposed to read and hand out.  He also posted it at the Post Office, which had reopened.

Life was going to go on, the President said, but not like before.  And it would require cooperation and hard work to maintain our civilization.  He had authorized the minting of a $100 gold coin, to stabilize the currency for the time being.  Today, those coins are collectible, of course.  And he had authorized a crash-course to rebuild our economy, on mechanical technology, which seemed to be the only thing what worked anymore.

A month later, the first train showed up at the city station, puffing a great cloud of steam, and towing, incongruously, a string of streamlined high-speed passenger rail cars.  It was an old working antique engine, brought out of retirement to be put back to work, running from Boston to Florida and back.  The train was hot and stuffy, as none of the windows opened, and the ventilation system was, of course, inoperable.  It would be years before practical train travel came back, as switching systems and methods of communication would all have to be worked out, all over again.

It was a few months later that the first postal truck showed up on the street, delivering mail.  We saw buses a few months after that.

Meanwhile, I was busy designing hydraulic and pneumatic control circuits for the Pentagon.  They needed mechanical systems of all types.  I worked on HVAC controls for office buildings, reworking air conditioning systems to run on steam or diesel power.   It was not hard to do, really.  Absorption refrigeration requires little more than a flame to run.  Mechanical refrigeration can run off a diesel motor or a steam turbine just as well as an electric motor.  It was the controls that were tricky - pneumatic thermostats and the like, as well as safety systems for gas appliances.  But within a year, we were retrofitting the air handlers in the Pentagon, and they had air conditioning at the White House again.

One day, on the way home from work, on my bicycle, following thousands of others like myself, we all stopped and craned our necks to hear a sound and see a sight that many of us had forgotten.  It was a jet plane, a fighter jet, arcing over the sky.  As the sound of the jet exhaust echoed off the buildings, a roar of approval erupted from the cyclists.  We were turning a corner.

About then, cars started to appear.  The police had confiscated my neighbor's Mercedes, and returned it to him two years later, repainted in a black-and-white scheme.  But for his sacrifice, he found it was retrofitted with a compressed air starter with an air tank in the trunk.  He started running a taxi service for the neighborhood, and his car never left the street less than full of passengers.

Newspapers were back in print, again, and read voraciously.  Despite the decrease in the nation's population, readership was up.  Converting the existing printing plant to hydraulic drive was a daunting task, but the end result was quite profitable for the owners.

And speaking of owners, that was a major problem for Wall Street, once it started rebuilding after the riots.  All stock and bond ownership records were kept on computers, and the computers were useless as bricks.  Few people kept paper records and what few paper records there were, were looted or destroyed in the rioting.

Of course, many of those companies simply ceased to exist.  Stock in electronic firms, computer makers, cell phone companies, and internet companies were worthless.  They had little in assets other than leases on office space.  A Commission was set up to sort out the mess, using whatever records could be assembled.  It would take decades to sort out, to no one's satisfaction, of course.

But, as the economy improved, jobs started to appear.  Modern factories, without electrical power, needed a lot more people to run.  Without robots and with only primitive mechanical automation, it would take more people to build a car, or a stove, or a furnace, than before.  And demand for new mechanical appliances, such as air conditioners and furnaces, was strong.

The only fly in the ointment was the news coming from overseas.  We read in the papers about the famine in Africa, and how it had reduced the population to a tenth of its former self.  China and India suffered similar fates, but not to the same extent.  Japan was nearly wiped out, without food production of its own, but quickly learned to build ships using the new/old technology, in order to import food.

The President has suspended the Congressional election that was due in 2026.  In fact, few were thinking about voting at that time - and no one had any way to count such votes, much less campaign.  But the 2028 Presidential elections would go forward, not that it was much of a contest.

People were so relieved that communications, in the form of mail, were back, and that they understood what was going on, and that a semblance of an economy existed.  Even President Henderson's opponent (whose name, for the life of me, I don't remember) was deferential to the President.  Henderson won in a landslide, although all the votes were not tallied for another three weeks.  Mechanical voting machines and paper ballots took days to count and sort.

Reading made a comeback, as did writing.  Since the only way to communicate from one point to another was by mail, we all learned to write again, and I dusted off my old portable typewriter that I had shoved in the attic so many years ago.  The Postal Service made it a goal to bring back overnight first-class mail, and for the most part, did.  While it seemed like an inconvenience at first, to communicate by mail, over time, it really didn't seem like such a hassle.  So, someone doesn't answer your mail for a day or two, what's the rush?

And banks and accounting firms, once they started back up, needed small armies of clerks to make book entries, count up deposit slips, and man the manual adding machines needed to keep the accounts.  It wasn't long before we had full employment in the country.

I was involved, peripherally, with a group developing a mechanical computer for the Pentagon.  We were trying to create a mechanical version of the transistor, about the size of a head of a pin.  Thousands of these little latches were packed into a tiny space, driven by a set of shaft drives and "read" by a similar number of shafts and cogs.  It was a mechanical nightmare, but they eventually got it to work.

Most of the other fellows on that project were former clock and watchmakers, a dying art at one time, but one on the rise.  Ships and airplanes would need precision chronometers, to find longitude.  And of course, every home needed a wind-up clock to tell time with.  For the first time in years, I started wearing a watch - and old wind-up job given to me by my parents for high school graduation.

At about this time, I was released from the Army, and quickly found a job in the civilian sector.  The President had declared the national emergency over, and things were returning to normal - if indeed a new normal.  It was still odd to not get instant information by radio, telephone, or television, but in a way, it was also a lot less pressure.  No one knew what you were doing on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis, and nothing was as urgent, it seemed, anymore.

I was designing more pneumatic controls for home heating and A/C systems.  It was problematic to retrofit forced air systems, which relied on an electric motor, with diesel powered systems.  Running shafts through the house, with pulleys and bearing blocks, wasn't easy, and each system was nearly a custom job.

I devised a simple system of cross-shafts of telescoping length, that could be installed in most houses.  A small diesel engine sat outside, driving feeding the condenser fan and compressor, with a jack shaft that usually extended through a basement all to a cross shaft to the air handler unit.  It worked pretty well, but it could be noisy.  Designing a noise abatement case for the diesel engine was half the battle.

But people wanted heat, and they wanted air conditioning, and we found a way to get it for them.  And I designed a simple, but elegant pneumatic thermostat that controlled the whole thing, using compressed air to start the diesel engine and even activate the flint ignition on the natural-gas powered glow plugs.  It was - and is - a pretty slick system.

It was about that time, I think, that I took Jane to the movies.  Jane had stayed home after E-day, keeping the house clean, which was no small chore, with a broom and a carpet sweeper, as well as hand-washing all of our clothes.  It would be years before the pneumatic vacuum cleaner and pneumatic washing machine and dryer hit the market - and most houses were fitted with pneumatic outlets to drive such appliances.  And still years more before we could afford them.

So, I decided to take Jane to the movies, and this alone was a big sign of normalcy and civilization to us.  The movie companies had figured out how to show 35 mm films using a hand crank driven projector using an acetylene lamp.  They had taken some of the more recent movies, and spliced in cue cards.  It was a bit like going to the old silent movies, although seeing these pictures - made before E-day - made us all a little nostalgic.  We laughed at an old "silent" comedy shown at the end.  It seemed to depict a society closer to ours.

Since then, I hear someone is experimenting with getting the "talkies" to work again, using a pneumatically or hydraulically driven speakers, but I am not sure how well that will work.  From what I hear, it is little more than squawks and honks at this point.  Others have tried to synchronize mechanically reproduced sound from Victrola records, but as you might imagine, it isn't very effective for a theater of 200 people.

It was several years before all the hulk of the gasoline-engine cars were hauled off the roads and scrapped out.  You still see the remains of a few today, scattered here and there in the country.  I kept my car for a few more years, before having it towed away.  You can still see some of them in car museums, like the one I took you to last year.  Other than the headlights, they pretty much look like regular cars today.

And kids, such as yourself, born in this era, grew up in a world without electricity, and know nothing else.  I remember your puzzled looks, as I showed you the trappings of our electronic civilization - cell phones, computers, and games.  To you, they were no more than inanimate objects, other than the computer keyboard, which, as you noted, was "nothing more than a typewriter than don't work!"

Over the years I threw out most of that junk.  Enough of it lingers on in museums that I didn't need to keep mine.  Like my old car, they were little more than reminders of another era.

How much longer our planet will be surrounded and enveloped by this damping cloud is anyone's guess.  Since it doesn't show up on optical telescopes, we can only go by the data collected on radio telescopes before it enveloped our planet.  The best guesses seem to be that it could be 500 to 1000 years before we emerge from the cloud.  At that point, perhaps electricity will be used again, and maybe enough of our technology and civilization will exist to make use of it.

But looking back, I wonder sometimes if this wasn't a blessing in disguise.  All I remember about the electronic era was a feeling of angst and fear - instant communication which was mostly noise and hardly any signal.  Lies and rumors spread faster than they could be challenged.  And everyone, it seemed, was in instant communication with everyone else, but had nothing to say.

Your generation knows nothing of these things, and lives only in the time of its own making.  And what marvelous contraptions your generation will build, is anyone's guess.  There is already talk of launching rockets to the moon again, someday, using mechanically controlled rocketry.  It sounds terribly dangerous, but then again, the rockets they used back in 1969 were not all that safe, either.

And who knows?  Maybe one day, you will thrill your children with tales of what it was like in the non-electronic era.