Here I sit Tuesday in the darkened newsroom with my colleagues, working from a laptop on Wi-Fi, using backup power.

I knew this would happen, sooner or later — that we’d lose power in the middle of a busy day and have to scramble to keep the news coming.

Since my laptop isn’t working great — the keys stick — someone smarter than I hooked it up to a regular keyboard and attached a mouse so it’s easier to maneuver.

At least I can continue writing, albeit not in the greatest conditions.

I’ve just called Waterville City Manager Michael Roy across the street. City Hall lost power, too, but employees there are able to work on backup power. Roy has just learned about 900 Central Maine Power Co. customers are without power in this area, which includes the downtown, and it is expected to be restored around 3:45 p.m. It’s just after 3.

My imagination runs wild, as it did many years ago with the introduction of the internet. The “information highway,” as it was dubbed then, became all the rage. Strangely, we were able to do this thing called “emailing” where we could send a message to someone in California and receive a reply in mere seconds.

What a phenomenon it was.

All the younger newsroom employees, coming to work fresh off college graduation, would ask me curiously why I clipped and filed my stories from the actual print newspaper instead of relying on our electronic archives.

“In case we lose everything in the system,” I replied.

This did not make sense to these young writers who grew up on everything electronic and digital.

Clipping and filing stories was one of the first things I learned as a reporter, some 30 years ago. To write a story about the history of the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville, for instance, or the homeless shelter, one would need previous stories to use for background.

We have a back room here at the paper we call “the morgue” — another term young reporters find foreign but which we older folks know as the place where all sorts of valuable information is filed and stored in old metal cabinets.

Want to know about the state of the city in 1989? Go consult the morgue.

But the files in that room — now dusty and crowded with old camera equipment, boxes of film and other outdated stuff — is a lonely place now, visited mostly by me when I’m looking for something unusual that happened many years ago.

Years ago, we had a newsroom librarian who sat at her desk part of the day, clipping and filing stories and placing them in those file cabinets — a practice we relied on and couldn’t live without.

Now, all the stories are archived in the “system” and available at our fingertips, which is good, but some stories I’m able to retrieve only by accessing my own clip files. I have a dozen plastic storage totes in my basement full of them, and they have proved invaluable over the years.

I have this recurring dream that not only the newspaper loses everything in the “system” but that all of mankind loses it — that one day, all the electronic memory in all the computers and clouds in the world just goes poof. TVs and phones don’t work, computer screens go blank and everything stored digitally, everywhere, is gone. And with it, all the backup.

I wonder how we would survive if that were to happen. Would we? I envision a situation like we saw in the old television series “The Twilight Zone,” where everything stands still and we are crippled by the fallout of our own intelligence.

It’s a wild dream and far-fetched, but what if?

I hope, in the event it does happen, there are a lot of people smarter than I who could figure it out and set us straight again.

As I type this, there’s a great commotion as the lights come on, newsroom computers reboot and the police scanner resumes squawking.

Whew. We’re back online. I needn’t worry anymore about that pesky, bad dream.

And anyway, I tell myself: It’s just a dream.

 

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 31 years. Her columns appear here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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