When I first saw the Mel Gibson film, “The Road Warrior,” it was one of those moments when you knew it would be a classic. Lots of symbolism, among a violent tale of post-apocalypse survival. What makes it classic is the hero’s vulnerability, despite all his bravado and ingenuity, standing alone between those clinging desperately to order and building a new future and the lawless determined to get what they can before it is gone forever.
Working “on the road” in the Internet Age isn’t Mel and the Humongous cruising the Australian outback looking for fuel, but it’s close. I spent most of the week near a small lake resort town in Montana. We have an off-the-grid primitive cabin in the mountains nearby, and I cruise into town looking for Internet access from time to time. In most towns across America today, there is plenty of Internet access. The coffee shops and libraries are the most reliable, and you can usually get a signal parked out front even if they are closed. So, the Information Highway (as it was called, briefly, in its infancy as a world-wide phenomenon) is accessible and relatively open.
The real problem is fuel supply. Few of the places I stopped this week had power outlets. One of my colleagues says they would never get rid of us if they did, so maybe he has a point. My point, not having a source of electric power at the cabin, was, I needed juice to keep the computer running. I’d been thinking of putting in a solar panel, but it rained all week, so good luck there… I had a car-starting battery and an inverter, but had foolishly let the thing sit in the back of the car without recharging it from the last trip, and it was flat. Inverters are inefficient power hogs, so running the computer off the car while parked in range of a good wi-fi signal wasn’t attractive.
I did get the local library to take pity on me and unplug something non-vital long enough to get a full charge. I forgot I carry a double-outlet compact surge protector, or I could have split the line. Complications, complications. In our former home town, the library has plenty of electrical outlets at the study carrels and even in the stacks near tables, and the coffee shops are similarly equipped, but not here. It could be the tourist thing–a town weary of the onslaught of sun-and-fun seekers for the short Montana summer might consciously or unconsciously discourage the tourists from camping out in their favorite winter haunts and sipping power (which, by the way, comes from a large hydroelectric plant just downstream from the lake–no short supply there).
My old laptop came with double batteries, but both together had less capacity than the modern ones, and they needed recharged eventually and had a relatively short service life. The increasingly mobile Internet access needs a reliable source of fuel. What good is wireless Internet access if you need wired power to use it? Cell phones and computers are rapidly growing in capacity to be able to run most of the day on one charge, with the assumption that you will have a ready source of power for recharging while you sleep. A few years ago, there was some briefly serious look at fuel cells, but they were never perfected, and the post-9/11 security put an end to the possibility of toting a liquid-fueled computer on an airliner.
In my travels, I’ve spent too much time sitting on the floor in the waiting areas at airports just to get close enough to the rare electrical outlets there, and had queues form, fellow ‘Net addicts desperate for a quick charge before boarding (where was that multi-port surge protector then?). I haven’t traveled by air lately, but I understand that some of the international carriers have put power jacks in the seat consoles for long flights. But, for the rest of us internet road warriors, it’s a desert out there, with the inevitable clashes when we come across a lone vacant power jack. Battery’s fading. Gotta go.