#fridayflash: a brief whimper

It started with... actually, it's hard to say what it started with, because what it started with was so banal. Fender benders. Printers needing repairs. Buttons coming off shirts, and flies splitting open just before the hot date arrived.

The first thing that was given notice by the mass media was when a house collapsed in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. It wasn't an old house, or a decrepit one. It was in the midst of being renovated, and one of the walls the architect assured the construction workers was not weight-bearing... was. Everyone who was inside at the time saw the walls sway and buckle. Fortunately, they all got out before the roof fell in on them.

The next thing was all the major web sites going down at once. Supposedly that one was from Facebook failing to apply a patch to their servers, but no-one ever fully understood how that affected the rest of the internet-connected servers.

The internet stopped mattering within a day or two, because even if the servers had been up no-one without backbone access would have been able to access it. The cable networks went down first, in patches, and always for the same reason “a tree root broke through the wiring underground.” That reason was given in the parts of Arizona, where there were no trees, as consistently as it was given in Quebec, where at least it was plausible. The copper-wire “land line” telephone networks followed within hours — so DSL access went down with the phones. The mobile phone towers lasted the longest, until they all started experiencing electrical shorts and signal loss.

And still the little things were piling up, but in such sizable piles that people noticed. The pen that crunched when it should have clicked, forever doomed to retract when the slightest pressure was applied to the nib. Plastic knitting needles snapped; metal ones bent beyond usefulness. Kettles refused to boil water. Microwaves caused either ashes or tepidity.

Office computer networks, the ones that were still intact, paralysed themselves with contradictory security policies and refused to allow their administrators access so they could open a way for staff to get work done.

By the end of the week the economies of most First World countries were in freefall. Political leaders held emergency caucuses to discuss what to do if the hospitals ran out of usable medical equipment, or if the traffic light systems in all urban centres stopped working. (As it happens, both of these remained unaffected.)

It was a technical support analyst who found the solution. Fed up with being told to fix the unfixable, she left a note on her desk saying she was taking sick days for all of the following week, and that she planned to spend her waking hours in bed, reading books. She strongly suggested everyone else do the same.

The rest of her team lasted one day and then followed suit. One of them was the neighbour of a radio announcer (the only mass medium still working), and he told everyone in broadcast range about it next time he was on the air.

By midweek anyone in North or South America who didn’t work in emergency services was staying in bed. Children read picture books; teenagers read novels and caught up on homework for the first time since kindergarten. Grown-ups made headway into the stacks of books they’d always meant to get around to.

And then, because Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Antipodes only heard about it once ships could communicate the news via radio, they all stayed in bed for the following week too, everyone in the world who didn’t work for a hospital, a fire hall, or a police station.

Then they stayed in bed one week more, just to make sure.

The grocery stores opened back up first, simply because people were running out of food at home, then the restaurants. And then the tech support analyst who had come up with the idea in the first place casually checked the time on her mobile phone one day, and noticed there was a signal on it for the first time in almost a month, and wi-fi too.

"Time to get back to work," she announced to no-one in particular.

"Shhh, I just got to the good part," her husband murmured over his book.

"Mommy, we’re out of peanut butter," her eight-year-old announced.

"Okay, honey," the analyst said to the doorway her eight-year-old had disappeared from already, and gave her husband a kiss on the cheek. "You better finish that today," she said. "It’s time."