There’s a lot of discussion these days about the dehumanizing nature of technology, about how our increasing ability to communicate and share information ends up, ironically, increasing our isolation and reinforcing our cynicism. While I won’t deny that some of those points are valid, my experience with Hurricane Irma reminded me that technology gives us some remarkable gifts that we shouldn’t lose sight of.I live in the Miami Beach section of Miami, five blocks from the beach and in the heart of the Hurricane Irma evacuation zone. As the storm approached, I went to my in-laws’ sturdy, well-equipped house on the western edge of the city to wait out the storm. (My husband, a general surgeon, was on call at his hospital.)
More than a week before Irma approached, we were able to monitor the storm’s expected path and plan accordingly. If you think the role of technology in predicting natural disaster is not a big deal, or if you get annoyed by weather forecasters who are overly dramatic, alarmist and often inaccurate, consider the alternative. In 1900, thousands died when a devastating hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, without warning. While government officials knew a storm was coming, they had no way to effectively communicate the information to residents. So chalk one up for technology.
To get food and water, meanwhile, I avoided long lines and empty shelves by using Amazon’s Store Preparedness program to have essential supplies shipped to my house before the weather got bad. And when power and cell service went out, I was able to use social media to alert my family in Argentina that I was safe. All this made me realize that having access to essentials and being able to contact loved ones during an emergency are not things to take for granted.
As for the idea that technology is making us more self-centered and selfish, my experience with the natural disaster of Irma contradicts that notion. What I saw was neighbors offering shelter, volunteers clearing streets of trees and debris and first responders going the extra mile without hesitation.
Less than a week after the hurricane hit Miami, I’m back home – feeling exhausted, relieved and grateful. Relieved and grateful first and foremost for the obvious reason that my family and I are safe and our home was spared significant damage. But I’m also grateful to have witnessed, experienced and benefited from the incredibly powerful combination of technology and the human spirit.