Sunday, November 18, 2012

S for Sandy- A Message to Lehigh Students

Communication tends to cling to our fingertips in this day and age; digital devices and twenty-four hour media are a compulsory luxury we’re so used to having that it feels unnatural when a hurricane hits and, for once, you have to worry about not being able to charge your laptop or phone. The internet goes out first (goodbye WiFi) and eventually a cell tower goes down and you have no service. The only tethers you have to the outside world are now useless, unless you need a calculator or a mediocre flashlight.

The weather that besieged the eastern U.S. coast wasn’t as terrible here in the Lehigh Valley, where you go to college and currently live. There was no dangerous flooding. The wind was strong but you weren’t afraid of your building falling down. But your dorm lost power, your house lost power, your friends’ houses lost power...  You had to walk to get food the night the storm was approaching, and it was a bit daunting with the wind picking up, the trees that surrounded you dangerously bending before the wind was even at full force. In the aftermath, this was the biggest culprit in the Valley: uprooted trees knocking over power lines. You know you rely on power every day, but you’re not sure just how much until it's gone for a few days. You showered in the dark; you suppose you should be glad there was still hot water.

Your power comes back on relatively quickly, so you invite some of your friends over because they have none. You’ve never seen so many laptops and cell phones charging together on a dining room table. 

And when WiFi comes back on, you’re instantly reconnected to the outside world. The storm which was bad enough to knock out power lines near you  has flooded the streets of New York, streets you had visited a few weeks ago. The subway you took has been completely submerged. You see pictures of New Jersey, the beach town you stopped in during the summer, wrecked to the point where the only hope is that its inhabitants made it out in time. You see news story after news story, pictures of destruction and collections of the worst parts of the storm, a collage of all the states along the east coast. You wonder how you would’ve known any of this without your phone, laptop, T.V. Maybe you wouldn’t. That doesn’t seem right. 

Eventually your parents are able to reach your Grandmother, who lives on Long Island, and you learn she and her house are O.K. If the power was out longer, would she have had to send a letter to let us know she had survived the storm? Who sends mail anymore, unless it’s a postcard to a friend when you’re on a vacation, a commodity that’s cute or humorous. Phone calls never seemed so priceless.

The storm eventually dies, but the evidence of its resentment doesn’t fade with it. You still see the news stories, now about the rising cost of the storm. Fifty billion dollars is the estimation of a final figure. Fifty billion dollars is a devastatingly large number.

You don’t really have a lot of money to give, who does? No one you know. But with many people, you don’t have to have a lot. Bits and pieces work just as well.

So you donate ten dollars, for the people whose homes were flooded, for the people who had to evacuate, for the areas that were destroyed; you donate because you weren’t as hit as badly, because you want to help, because you can.

#COMM30Sandy is an online class project for the Media & Society class at Lehigh University, taught by professor Jeremy Littau. You can donate to our campaign at this link, and for more infomation you can email Prof. Littau at jeremy.littau(at)

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