Out of Touch

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My Puerto Rican island of Vieques wears a dark cloak of invisibility. No electricity. No water service. No air flights to and from the island. No ferries run. No Internet or phone communications. No press coverage. No way of knowing if friends and families there are safe. No idea if my house still stands. 

Here on Cape Cod, meanwhile, I’ve received a cascade of queries this week about the status of Vieques. I reply in the only way I can: Vieques remains incommunicado.

The impossibility of connecting with friends and neighbors there brings home to me what it must have been like to live before the era of widespread telecommunications.

Read the Sherlock Holmes stories, for example, and witness people constantly sending written notes and letters to one another. Plots pivot on non-delivery of a message or delivery to the wrong person.

Or imagine the chronic unease of a Gloucester wife while her husband is on a years-long whaling mission with no means of communication between them.

I come away from all this with a new awareness of what a social species humanity is. We are engineered for both verbal communication and the nuanced messaging of body language—from fondling an infant to holding the hand of a dying parent.

The global digital technology that ties us together is now denied Vieques, an island of nine thousand souls. During the days since Hurricane Maria did her dirty work, Facebook has magnified our anxiety over the unknown condition of residents trapped on the island.

For days, people off-island have posted plaintive pleas for information about loved ones. Here are a few, with last names deleted for privacy:

  • My mother and my daughter. My daughter's mom, my daughter's brother. I need to know if they are ok.
  • Deb is my cousin. Has anyone heard that she and Dennis are OK?
  • We are looking for Marie. She is the one wearing the hat in this photo. Her entire family is anxiously awaiting to hear from her.

Meanwhile, ex-Hurricane Jose has tormented Cape Cod with high winds off the Atlantic Ocean for days. We are battered by heavy downpours as I write this.

I don’t feel alone, isolated or cut off, however, because I am connected to the world electronically.

We users might kvetch about social media technology, but we’ve grown accustomed to its near magic in bringing people together. It has extended our personal reach, enabling us to touch others without regard for time or distance.

When digital connection is lost, as it is in Vieques right now, our feeling of isolation is heightened—making us even more aware of how truly alone we are and how small.

It’s precisely at moments like these that we must remember, as author Josh Stern notes, “Friends might lose touch but never lose feelings.” 

(Image: Using a touch screen, courtesy of Freepik)


Showing 5 reactions

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  • commented 2017-09-28 14:24:27 -0400
    I have a feeling your island home is still standing…and not just because it is all concrete – I think it is because it is spiritual in many ways. Perhaps it is providing shelter to others (maybe a bird nesting or other needy creations from our greater power) or it is standing as a beacon of hope on the hill. We made it through IRMA here in Florida on the West Coast but it was not easy at times. Clean up still going on. But, everyone pulls together — everyone — no matter who you are or where you are from. Hope you get news soon of your home and your neighbors. Pray.
  • commented 2017-09-23 10:55:50 -0400
    It took about 8 days after Hurricane Irma hit Vieques and wiped out communication to hear from my close family friend Vinny who lives there to be able to call me he and say he was okay and everything was alright. And now I have heard through other people on Facecrap that he was evacuated to Porto Rico and was in some hotel lobby stairwell weathering the storm. Still waiting to hear that he is okay.
    Yes we did get a lot of wind and rain here on Cape Cod from Jose which I had to drive from Truro to Boston in to connect with a cancer specialist. I am a long term AIDS survivor (LTAS) — long story. I am writing my book ‘Soul of the Phoenix’ — and now this.
    But I am not sure how I feel about this constant barrage of social media stuff especially when it spreads so much negative unsocial propaganda, especially with this new health challenge I have.
    There are many storms in our lives to get through and with the help of each other we do and in this that way this medium can be helpful.
  • followed this page 2017-09-23 10:20:19 -0400
  • commented 2017-09-23 07:12:10 -0400
    We have gained and lost so much from the digital world that we now live in and it is indeed at times like these when reminds us just dependent and insignificant we all are.
    “We are engineered for both verbal communication and the nuanced messaging of body language”
    The digital world, as much as it tries cannot replicate human contact and we should not deceive ourselves into thinking it can.
    I live in the UK and I assume there must be a Gloucester the US as well.
  • commented 2017-09-22 22:30:24 -0400
    I had no idea that your island was that small – with so few people. So they must feel the opposite of “Unconnected?” Every person must be related to many others AND so the losses are shared by big numbers. To see them collecting their things in boxes and gleaning anything that can be used to rebuild is a sign of strength and hope. Thank you for sharing your personal photos and ideas. Come another week, month or year, we might be recovering too; who knows? Bill