Losing contact with the outside world is a well worn trope of horror and thriller films and television. The isolated farm house, the non operating phone, these things were a staple – until mobile phones and wireless connections made it much less likely that a killer could cut off communications. In these kinds of films the horror came from the inability to provide information to the outside world, to seek help.
Watching Dead Set and Jericho, which are different in many ways, made me think about this notion of being incommunicado. In both these series, shortly after disasters (of very different natures) strike, communications become difficult, limited and pretty much impossible. In Jericho in particular, there is a strong focus on this lack of communication, with people gathered in vain around television sets and mobile phones.
What is clear in both these series though is that the desire for communication is not about being able to communicate out into the world, it is about getting communications in. The characters really aren’t trying to call for help (except perhaps in the very earliest stages of Dead Set), they are instead trying to find out what else is happening in the world.
In our world of constant connectivity, of always knowing that we can find out what is happening all over the world with a few key strokes, where loved ones are rarely further than a mobile phone call away, a sudden absence of connection is terrifying. Information is secreted away, used like a weapon at times in Jericho and every badly translated snippet of French news is seen as a lifeline in Dead Set. When characters should accept that there is no news and hole up from potential danger, instead they go out into the uncertain world risking their lives and long term safety for news and information.
Can we survive without being connected? Does the constant information flow really make our lives better? How would we react if a solar storm takes out communications world wide? Would it be necessity that would send us out seeking information – or just curiosity? It seems impossible to remember a world without constant status updates, but it was only 23 years ago that I went to France for 3 months as an exchange student and my only contact with home was through written letters. But now it seems impossible to imagine world disasters without blow by blow television coverage – which may be why the size and scope and scale of the Pakistan floods did not actually sink in for most of us for a week or two. The tree really didn’t fall in the forest if there wasn’t television coverage.
Personally, when the sun spots hit, I recommend finding somewhere safe and keeping curiosity under control…well, for as long as possible.