Station Eleven: Look it up

Swinging in my hammock beneath the sea grape trees at Sprat Hall Beach on St. Croix, I devoured the novel Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s a pandemic story — written before this real COVID-19 pandemic — about the few who survive and how their stories are connected and intertwined by a new future together.

In the story, most of humanity dies within days from flu, and within months all the privileges of modern society are gone or done or off: no electricity, grounded airplanes, the distribution of food and supplies abruptly stopped. Those who remain eventually band up, settled down or into a nomadic routine, and struggle to survive without medicine and industry and civil society. And the sentence that most struck me was this one that starts on page 199:

None of the older Symphony members knew much about science, which was frankly maddening given how much time these people had had to look things up on the Internet before the world ended.

In our house, Erin and I are always grabbing our phones to look up facts and figures and historical articles. We are trying to train our children to do the same; I sometimes make them get the actual dictionary off the bookshelf to find a definition. Just last week I heard a friend explain that education today needn’t rely on making students memorize lists and equations and such. But what if? What if this amazing digital trove of knowledge in our hands suddenly stopped working? Would I survive long? Would you?

Let’s make sure we use the internet to learn to get along, to make electricity, and to survive together.



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