During our 2005 Hurricane Katrina exile we were in a coffee shop in upstate Alexandra. At a nearby table were two coeds who, we had learned from a brief conversation, were from Sweden and were attending the University of New Orleans (UNO). They were busy on their laptops communicating with the folks back home who must have been horrified by the news they were hearing from Louisiana.
Laptops were getting fairly common back then, but not so common that everyone had one, including us. If two coeds in Alexandria could communicate with Sweden over a cappuccino, maybe it was time for us to join this newly emerging world.
That night we went to the Walmart in Marksville and bought our first laptop. Back at the B&B where we were staying, we connected the laptop and soon we too were webbed worldwide – though slowly. Back then “dial-up” was still the most common search method for computers. It was slow and limited in its capacity to bring images to the screen. Making a connection was like making a long distance call, which in our case was through a line 30 miles away. We didn’t know it at the time, but with each search on the machine we were running up a long distance bill.
WiFi existed but not in many places. One cousin, a student at LSU, could recite the places along the highway between Baton Rouge and Markville where WiFi hotspots existed. One of them was in the lobby of the nearby Paragon Casino’s Hotel. A Sunday ritual was to go to the lobby to syphon WiFi. The location was also a good place to meet with other displaced New Orleanians who were doing the same thing.
Some of the visitors might have also been doing another modern trick with which we were barely familiar – text messaging. With the change from old fashion cell phones to smart phones, the technical possibilities seemed limitless. From the moment we walked into that coffee shop in Alexandria to the Sunday nights at the Paragon Casino we became “techies,” though barely able to keep up with the endless innovations.
Now we’re in the era of the virus, another tragedy. It was only about a month ago when a fellow employee told me that she had just registered for ZOOM. “For what?” I asked. “Zoom,” she said.
Since that moment there has not been a day, indeed barely an hour, when Zoom has not been a part of the conversation. As though arranged by a cosmic force this service, which creates video conferences on the internet, came into rage just when people were being prohibited from making personal contact. Over the last few weeks there have been two forces spreading throughout the world, the coronavirus and Zoom. It can truly be said that Zoom’s popularity has gone viral.
Just as wars historically highlight new inventions so too do tragedies. After the turmoil we are left with creations that can allow for new possibilities.
For that to happen though, creativity cannot be locked in for too long.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.