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Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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When digital fails, analogue fills the gap

Humans love to dive headlong into the latest shiny tech, but when disaster struck this week, old tools became crucial.

No internet or power in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay left officials with very few communication options, so they resorted to the archaic technology of radio.

Similar disasters in the past decade made social media look like a golden star, with people using it to declare themselves safe and post updates on road closures.

However, areas without internet or power this week have made a strong case for our old faithful alternatives.

Back in the day, corded telephones would still work in a power cut. Everyone would have a landline and at least one transistor radio. This is no longer the case, and hundreds of people are still unaccounted for in the floods.

Those who still had landlines were waiting for the dial tone, before realising the phone companies now connect them via their now defunct internet.

Radio has been described as the “cockroaches of the media”, mostly because it has remained popular even after live TV went out of fashion, but we have learned this week that it is the last communication in the storm.

Even the local newspaper could not be relied on – Hawke’s Bay Today was stuck on the wrong side of Napier-Taupo Rd because it is printed in Auckland. The hardworking journalists providing coverage realised it would not be seen until the road opened, or the internet turned back on.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise said on RNZ that radio was the top medium for information and updates. If you biffed your grandad’s battery radio, you can listen to it in your car.

Apart from the radio in my car, I haven’t owned a radio since 2013. I listen to RNZ in the morning on my phone via broadband internet. Commercial radio is constantly promoting apps such as Rova and I Heart Radio, as though they will eventually do away with the dinosaur tech, and move to a fully internet-based service.

Noel Leeming still sells battery radios, but they’re in a dusty corner behind the cordless landlines, which have not been updated for 15 years, unlike the cell phones, TVs and smartwatches that are on full display.

As I sit on my hands waiting for the end of the storm, I realise how unprepared many of us are for a natural disaster. I don’t know where my local evacuation zone is and I only have one can of baked beans in my cupboard.

The trend towards electric vehicles is idealistic but vulnerable during events such as this, especially in Wairarapa where I don’t think I’ve ever heard of so many power cuts in one area before.

Do the powerlines in Wairarapa even have enough gusto if we all become EV owners? At times it barely powers my hairdryer.

Hundreds of people caught short in the floods up north weren’t begging for a hero in a clean green Nissan Leaf, but a hardy, diesel-guzzling Toyota Hilux.

Modern technology all relies on a power source, cellular network or an internet connection, which can be relied upon until they can’t.

We need options, so there’s an alternative when everything goes kaput.

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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