On my radar: These are the days of our load-shedding lives

Human resilience is an amazing thing. We can adapt to the cruellest conditions when our survival instinct kicks in. Watching the nation adjust to load shedding has been a masterclass in survival instinct psychology and the adaptability of human behaviour.

Predictably, when the prospect of load shedding was reintroduced, we went through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, although having gone through the trauma of load shedding in 2008, the sequence of these five stages was somewhat scrambled this time.

Inevitably, it always starts with denial, as in: “I can’t believe this is happening to us – again.” This is followed swiftly by what South Africans really excel at – anger. Now that we’ve honed our skills in social media, our outlet is mainly online and, since the target of our anger – Eskom and municipalities – now have a social-media presence, we are able to direct our venom with better accuracy.

We skip over bargaining because we’ve been through this before and know in our heart of hearts we just have to deal with the inevitable.

Eskom’s confusing scheduling also kills any appetite for bargaining, and perhaps that’s actually a brilliant strategy on the parastatal’s behalf: confuse and diffuse. So we move swiftly on to depression and acceptance, but because we’ve done this before, we deal with these emotions simultaneously.

Having learnt the lessons of 2008, we’ve become far more strategic: less of a Lord of the Flies frenzy and more of a Hunger Games sobriety, although on the first night of load shedding, every pizza joint in my area experienced more than a bit of Lord of the Flies hysteria.

Understanding that wood-burning ovens would be able to feed their families during the 6pm to 10pm blackout, people raced to their nearest pizzeria, only to find long queues. It was not a pretty sight, but we quickly learn to “outwit, outplay, outlast” (the Survivor reality show mantra). This is how we’ve adapted to the days of our load-shedding lives.

CHARGE, BACKUP AND CHARGE AGAIN

Warnings that you should wait for your device’s battery to go below 30% before recharging it to ensure optimum power storage go unheeded as we now charge anything and everything whenever there is power, from cellphones to camping lamps, and especially the new must-have lifesaver – your power monkey. Since we can’t rely on or make sense of load-shedding schedules, we now strike while the iron is hot – or rather, while the grid is on.

UNPLUG, UNPLUG, UNPLUG

We’ve learnt that when the power does come back on, there is the possibility of a power surge, which can and will take out your appliances and modern-day essentials, such as your modem, so each day brings the tedious chore of unplugging devices all round the house just in case there is another “emergency” announcement from Eskom while you are at work. If you don’t do this already, you have been warned.

RESET, RESET, RESET

For households that have (previously convenient) timers on things such as lights or geysers and appliances with digital clocks, you would have now become accustomed to resetting all your timers and clocks after load shedding.

If you don’t do this, your lights or appliances come on at odd hours of the day and your neighbours accuse you of wasting electricity. You just can’t win.

Seek Wi-Fi, Mobilise, Decamp

No electricity means no Wi-Fi. No Wi-Fi means productivity grinds to a halt. ‘Agile’ is a new buzzword in work trends that refers to working organically, but no one imagined just how agile a workforce really needs to be during load shedding.

I’ve witnessed entire small businesses storm into coffee shops that supply Wi-Fi signals so that they can continue working. They then decamp to another “coffice” should the coffee shop fall into darkness.

THE HARDWARE STORE RUN

Solar lights, gas cylinders, candles, rechargeable torches and lamps and the never-in-stock generators have become staples on shopping and to-do lists. Hardware store visits have almost become weekly occurrences, just like popping into Woolies.

DECODE, DEBATE, DECIPHER

No one really understands the load-shedding schedule, so water-cooler conversations at work or on social-media sites have become discussion forums where everyone shares his or her interpretation of the day’s possible load-shedding schedule. Many people now have their preferred online oracle as a permanent tab on their internet browser, which is dutifully checked every morning before breakfast – another new ritual – assuming, of course, the electricity is on so you can check it.

On that note, one of the more – not altogether unexpected – ripple effects of load shedding is allegedly that criminals are now taking advantage of blackouts – no electric fences, no alarms and no streetlights – to break into houses.

I find this puzzling and improbable. If we can’t decipher the schedule, how on earth are criminals able to? If they can, they should rather put their energies into developing an app that accurately and definitively provides reliable load-shedding timetables. They’d make a fortune.

We’ve got a few more years of this.

Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. For more trends, visit www.fluxtrends.com

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