Candles

We were making our dinner last Tuesday when the kitchen light went out. A second later, I realized the new Bruno Mars album had stopped playing.

“Jason.” He was moving plates to the outdoor table. “I think the power just went out.”

I opened the fridge. Dark. OK, no more opening the fridge. Oops, did it to put away the butter. Oops, did it again to grab the cheese.

Baby scooted across the living room, chasing toys with long shadows from the late Seattle spring sun. No power? I thought. No problem.

Except Jason was set to host a weekly Counter-Strike: Global Offensive community night on a couple borrowed servers. And I was planning to watch “Arrested Development.” Or edit a video. Or write a blog post. Or all three.

It was hardly a big deal. Just an interruption in our regularly scheduled programming. The Seattle City Light website said a fallen tree had cut power to about 250 North Seattleites. They’d restore it, they guessed, by 11:30 p.m. We hadn’t spent a night without screens in … wow, I realized. A while.

What will it look like?

It felt like a challenge. Lazy and hungry, I shrugged it off. I sent off a couple tweets and emails and liked a few Facebook posts on my phone, more conscious of its proximity to me than usual. I do this all the time around dinner, don’t I? The phone sits on the kitchen counter or the table or the microwave so that when baby obsesses over pieces of cereal, Jason tends to the grill or the stir-fried veggies need another minute, I can sneak a peek at my digital universe.

My phone was at half battery. Hm.

The previous week I’d stumbled on a Northwestern University study that found that parents in 40 percent of American families consume an average of 11 hours of screen media per day. The number blew my mind. Eleven hours? More than two-thirds of the time I’m awake? It seemed insane, but also — yeah — accurate. When am I not in front of a screen became the more interesting question. Driving. Meetings. Playing with the baby. Um … sleeping?

We ate outside, baby went to bed and Jason checked in with his friends on Steam. He’d found another host for the night’s matches, but with his game on the souped up PC downstairs, there was no way he could participate… until he found an app that let him join the player chat channel. For the next half hour he sat outside, discussing strategies, and I sat on the couch, putzing around the Web.

It got darker. Jason moved inside with his iPhone. Our batteries drained. His face glowed.

I could go to a coffee shop with my laptop and edit videos, watch something, do what needed to be done, basically, to have the evening I usually have. But that would be a shame. The part of this outage that felt like a challenge — it was an invitation to disconnect. I wanted to take it.

“Let’s sit outside with glasses of wine,” Jason said, reading my mind.

I grabbed some candles, a match and a gray fleece blanket I found at the end of the dark downstairs den with my phone’s flashlight. He grabbed a sweatshirt, a couple glasses and a bottle of sauvignon blanc.

Outside, we talked. We heard the wind shake the spruces in our yard and noticed most every plane that criss-crossed the sky, lights blinking. There must have been 15 of them. The air got chilly and Jason put his hands in his sweatshirt pockets. My eyes adjusted and I saw the stars. The candlelight withstood the occasional gust and flickered green on the curve of the wine bottle. A couple hours in, we’d poured the last drop.

That night the world was real and quiet and I slept better than I had in weeks.

The power was back by the time baby woke us up in the morning.

I’d gone to bed thanking the tree.

Mónica Guzmán is a freelance journalist, speaker and award-winning digital life columnist for GeekWire. You can find her tweeting away @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.

Comments

  • T

    Ok

  • Kurt Clark

    Bravo! I love how you took an unexpected situation like a power outage and turned it into another way to experience life and reflect on the day-to-day. The 11-hour screen time number sounds accurate, at least for me when I combine eight hours at work and then time at home – either editing photos on the computer or playing Mario Kart on the TV.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      Thanks, Kurt. It was a refreshing night. I really, REALLY want to find a way to count exactly how much time I am in front of a screen in a day. What do I use? A stopwatch? It would need to be easy enough to tap every time I even look at my phone screen, but separate from my phone itself. Any ideas?

      • Kurt Clark

        Stopwatch is perfect! So many apps like that available, and it simply accumulates your time. It’s almost like a calorie counter for screen time :) Say, there’s an idea…a stopwatch that you can set at 11 hours (or whatever number you want to use a a limit) and then have count DOWN to zero like a calorie counter!

  • sandeep

    Go to a small city in India and you would be experiencing this more often :)

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      I can imagine. Funny how something like losing power can feel like a welcome luxury. #firstworldproblems, I guess.

      • Guest

        Go to a remote village in a former Soviet state – this would happen every time it rained.

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