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Weekend Special: One Day without the Cloud …

May 24, 2012

I woke up soaked in sweat due to a scream. It has been an unpleasant hot and humid night here in London. The scream itself was no surprise as my apartment not only did not have any air conditioning but also was in a part of the city where family violence was not uncommon. I often wondered whether living in the belt with some green around me and a more pleasant neighborhood would be worth the daily commute into London. But I despised the idea to sit in a metal tube with hundreds of other sweating commuters especially on a hot summer day. So I lived in London and used either cabs or my bike for transport.

Being half awake after a night with bad sleep on a morning that gives no fresh air or cold breeze is a feeling I hate. Rather that turning on the light I stood up in the dark and walked to my bathroom to the sound of creaking floorboards. Entering the bathroom was a relief as it was the only halfway cool room. Honestly, I would have slept there if possible. Only the size of exactly a toilet and a small shower stopped me.

After a hot and cold shower due to the water supply system not because I chose so, I stood in the small kitchen and drank some water from the fridge. I had no clue what was on the agenda today but that is the reason I do spend my money on technology rather than better accommodation. I started my jTab, the newest and latest tablet and fully cloud integrated. I am relying heavily on cloud based devices which is another advantage of living in the city. There is always a connection, WiFi, LTE or 4G. No need for local storage or computing power. I have really welcomed the cloud when it appeared on the sky as much as I would welcome any cloud on today’s sky that would shed some shadow or even bring some cooling rain. But to my surprise I was not able to get any connection this morning. I even tried my Smartphone, no wireless network available. Hmm, never mind, it probably is some local glitch. So I start my calendar app and checked my meetings for the day. The day starts with a meeting at the airport. Actually it is at the old airport, the one called Heathrow, which is only used by privately owned jets nowadays. Back in the beginning of the century it once was one of the biggest airports in the world but also a constant nuisance. Luckily, they kept the old Heathrow Express system in place so I only need to get down to Paddington Station get a ticket and jump on the train. Usually I would have booked the ticket online but hey, I am flexible.

Grabbing my bag I left my apartment and made my way down the old stairway to the street. I was hoping to grab a cab and thought my chances were quite good this early in the morning on a hot day.  Surprisingly there were plenty of people in the street and only very few cabs. While I made my way in the direction of the inner city on foot, I was able to grab bits and pieces of communications. There was an elderly lady on the way to the doctor but couldn’t get a cab as they refused to transport any passengers not paying in cash. Then there was the mother close to panic, not being able to pull cash from an ATM. I later figured out that no ATM worked anymore in all of London.  I had some 200 Euro in cash. Even so the UK moved to the Euro in 2020, I am still not used to it. Finally after having walked two blocks I was able to hail a cab and made my way to the station.

But there was a big surprise waiting for me there. Rather than the usual 35 Euros the cabbie asked for 120 Euros. With some discussion we finally settled for 75 Euros mainly due to me threatening him to stay in the cab all day preventing him from ripping off other customers. He raced off and I was standing at curbside wondering what really had just happened. Slowly I made my way into the station and stepped to one of the ticket machines. It was no surprise that there were no queues, everybody got their tickets online these days. The reason today though was that all ticket machines were down with an out-of-order message on the screen.  So what now? I pulled my smartphone from the bag and tried to open the railway app. But even though I was deep in the city center by now, I still had no connection at all. From the postures and faces of the people in the station I figured that it was not a problem I had exclusively.

When they moved the ticket sales more or less completely online, they also got rid of the ticket booths manned by real humans, save for one. In front of this one booth there was queue now that came close to one hundred folks trying to get tickets for all kinds of public transport, not only the Heathrow Express. In fact only a minority would be going my direction. So what could I do now? Without any way to get to Heathrow, it would be a save bet that a trip by cab would cost more than what I had in cash; I took a look at the next item on my agenda. There were no meetings that really required my presence and so I decided to call it a day in hope of the return of the cloud on the next day.

Giving the fact that I was in the city already I decided to stay there and grab some lunch. I had not realized that the whole trip and the confusion had taken more time than expected and so I actually was hungry and the clock turned to midday. I had a small favorite restaurant called Levantine around the corner from Paddington Station but that had closed years ago. So I started to wander around on the lookout for a nice place to eat. The change in the city was obvious. Where usually there is a constant stream of locals as well as tourists and there were huge crowds in the morning, the city now appeared to be empty. It felt as if someone had pulled the plug and all the people just disappeared. It seemed that the combination of the humid summer heat and the lack of cloud, making it impossible to work, to commute and to communicate drove the people inwards. This combined with the immanent issue that only cash worked as a payment method obviously resulted in people staying at home.

It was also impossible to get any consistent news since TV and radio networks were transferred to cloud based delivery forms some years ago as well. Only the military and some freaks still had and operated radios. Maybe these freaks were just prepared? On a second thought about being prepared I directed my steps to a place where I knew a supermarket would be. I was wondering whether people already started to fill up their stock of water and food. But nobody was to be seen. When I came closer to the supermarket I was able to read the sign: “Closed until the internet connection could be restored”. Thinking about it, while I walked into a park looking for some trees to give shadow, I realized that in the past years most systems were designed to be connected directly to the cloud and more or less dependent on it. While in the beginning of century there were many systems that would work on their own, nowadays, no connection means no functionality. Also I do remember the old days when I was working for a global software company in one of their German offices. When the office was disconnected due to some technical glitch, me and my colleagues just went home and worked from there. At that time we were the lucky ones and ahead of the curve. By now home office work, virtual workplaces and full flexibility are the norm. But this norm just went away, at least for London. I have no idea whether this issue is geographically restricted or actually is happening country-wide.

I still needed some lunch, giving the fact that my fridge at home hold more cold air than anything substantial to eat. Grabbing some canned food on the way would also be a nice thing. So I started to walk into the direction of my home. By now only very few cabs were still on the street. Probably the majority of them ran out of gas when the tank stations closed or the drivers ran out of cash. I neglected the idea to stop one and ask for a ride home. I had no illusion that the little cash left would not suffice.  So I continued walking. On leaving the inner city and getting into the suburbs one thing was evident. In the communities with a majority of citizens with a foreign heritage the impact was less visible than in the city itself. Life to some degree went on. I sat down in a Turkish restaurant and got some, very nice, food. While enjoying the food and not to forget my cold drink, I watched what happened around me. One of my first observations was that it seemed that much more cash was available and changing hands here. Secondly people seemed to help each other. What a difference to the area I lived in. You could be lucky if the neighbor called the ambulance when you were dying on her doorstep. I started to wonder whether we all had become too technology dependent. What would a Face+ friend help once all of the cloud disappeared? I started to envy the strong community in this neighborhood. Before that feeling got to strong I paid, a price that seemed to be the same as the day before, and started walking again. At a small shop an Indian sold me some bottles of water and some canned ravioli.

I kept on walking and was soaked through the second time this day. It was getting closer to dawn now and the more I got closer to my place the more the streets were deserted.  I was still believing that this was due to the heat and that I lived in a save neighborhood until I heard the first car window shatter. A group of teenagers was working its way from car to car, breaking windows and taking out any valuables. I was wondering why they operated in such a calm manner until I realized that the chances of someone alarming the police were quite low. Nobody had any landlines any more, not that these have been any good in London anyhow. And the police probably ran out of gas like anybody else. I doubt that the police had a cash reserve for days like today as part of an emergency program.  Staying in the shadows and trying not to be seen I slowly made further progress towards home. By now I was sweating not due to the heat but to a growing feeling of fear.

Only two blocks to go and this was the moment when I remembered what happened in 2011 when there were riots in the streets of London. Breaking into the cars is just the beginning and with shock I registered that in the block I lived in there were a bank and a supermarket. What if people started to attack these with Molotov cocktails and the resulting fire is spreading to my home. Not a pleasant thought but I got me back on focus and I was pressing on towards home. The closer I got the more audible became the siren from the supermarket. There were already about 20-30 people looting the supermarket. Unnoticed I slipped into the hallway and started to make my way up the stairs.

When I was close before reaching my level there was a loud thunder from below that shook the house and I started to fall down the stairs …

… I woke up soaked in sweat due to a thunder. It has been an unpleasant hot and humid night here in London. Luckily there was the beginning of a nice rain out there, that would hopefully cool down the city. I kept lying for a few minutes and thought about the strange dream I just had. It felt so real that I started to shiver. I forced myself not to jump up and check the smartphone. I just kept thinking about what would really happen without the cloud. I am highly convinced we would manage somehow. At least we would cope with it much better as if there would be no energy anymore. With this thought I turned around to put on the light on my nightstand. Due to the thunderstorm outside the only visibility I had, was when lightning stroke. I flicked the switch on the lamp and nothing happened, there seemed to be no energy anymore …

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