10 years ago: the great blackout of 2003

Ten years ago, the power went out.

It’s not unusual for the power to go out, but as always when it happens, you wonder if it’s just you or if it’s happening to everyone. Who better to know whether things are happening everywhere than your favorite systems administrator? So I called Dave Langhorst, and he reported the grim truth: power is out across a wide area, not just here, and his office phone was only working because of a battery backup.

I wrote about the 2003 blackout here on Vacuum, and the day after, I asked if people had good fiction to share about end-of-the-world scenarios that involved not fire or ice but network downtime. E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops was the universal recommendation; I recommend it to you as well as a short story from more than 100 years ago about the death of the net as we know it.

More: power outage maps from utility companies in 50 states and Canada, one of the most popular pages on this site.


2 thoughts on “10 years ago: the great blackout of 2003

  1. richard

    hat I learned that day: not long after the power first went out, and well before the full scope of the event was clear, a friend and I went walking down Wastenaw to see if any restaurants were still open. We ended up at Makkara sushi (their old location) and had a feast because with the power out they said a lot of food was going to be lost otherwise. So remember: when the grid completely collapses, it’s time for sushi!
    (Something good might as well come out of it, )

  2. floramargaret

    i remember walking down to the Washtenaw Dairy for dry ice and was disappointed when I saw a line out the door and down the street…turns out that that was not the line for dry ice, it was a line for coffee! they had their generator running. I remember a harried Doug behind the counter yelling, “No more doubles! No more doubles!” and a panicked woman urgently repeating it into her cell phone and asking, “should I get 4 singles instead?!”


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