You may consider that volcanoes and communications technology have nothing in common, but events last year made me think otherwise. The control we have over our world is so tenuous and so fragile that it is only hanging on by a thread.
When the volcano in Iceland spewed out lava and ash last year, it was initially regarded as a wonder of nature. Vulcanologists and tourists were enthralled to see the power that forced so much molten matter from the centre of the earth to the surface. The results were admired and examined and many heads were shaken in amazement at the natural forces that we rarely see.
Soon, with the help of another natural occurrence - the wind - huge plumes of ash began to drift across Europe. Plane flights were cancelled for days and thousands of people were inconvenienced and disappointed. After a few days of this, people started to get frustrated and even angry that nature had interfered with the way they planned to live their lives.
Infrastructure that we take for granted is so fragile. My experience of this occurred when I upgraded my home internet access plan. As soon as the changeover happened, my internet connection no longer worked. After four phone calls and one visit from a technician, it was restored four days later. The problem? One tiny frayed wire at the telephone exchange.
During those four days without cyberspace communication, I felt as if my connection to the outside world had been lost. I craved my internet links and drove to libraries just to get my fix by using their free wifi. It was quite a ridiculous reaction, really, but was a classic withdrawal symptom from an addict.
After the third day, what I noticed most was that I had so much extra time to do the things I over which I did have power. Without so much trivia from blogs and mailing lists cluttering up my mind, I had time to think. I thought about future projects and jotted down some ideas. I sewed madly for long hours, loving the fact that I had total control over the stitches I made. This was the thread that kept me in touch with the real world – my stitch making.
We all share the illusion that the world’s perfectly assembled infrastructure is solid and reliable. It’s not. If a frayed wire can dislocate the rhythm of my life and a natural event like a volcano can disrupt so many other people, what other vulnerabilities are there? I’ve realised that the thread that holds my life together is my stitching. Even if I could never buy another piece of fabric, I would still sew and create. Somehow, that’s extremely reassuring to me in this uncertain world.