Help! My town is trapped in the 1980s!

Wednesday night a major fiber-optic line was severed in northern New Mexico, leaving the tourist town of Taos, and Crave contributor Eric Mack, without wireless or Internet service for an entire day. The humanity!

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects, and CNET's "Living off the Grid" series Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
4 min read
Parts of Taos are centuries old, and now a major wireless and Internet outage has temporarily taken life in the town back in time. Taos.org/Lenny Foster

Call me inverse Marty McFly, for today I'm writing from the faraway world of the 1980s.

Or at least that's the the era that comes to mind in my home base of Taos, N.M., since about 7:30 Wednesday evening, when one of CenturyLink's fiber-optic lines east of town was severed, knocking out virtually all cell phone service and much of the Internet access in town.

Perhaps you've thought about what it would be like to go back to another technological age before ubiquitous smartphones and 4G. Maybe your older relatives long for just such a digital apocalypse. Or maybe, like me, you just watch too many end-of-the-world movies and TV shows. But -- whatever the reason -- perhaps you've wondered how you would handle such a low-tech scenario. If you're one of the many who've endured big storms like Katrina or Sandy, you already know the answer.

I'm not really sure why, but last night when I noticed that devices in my house that were connected to Sprint, Verizon, and T-Mobile's wireless networks, as well as Comcast cable Internet, all lost their connections at the same time, my first inclination was to hop on my bike. I stepped outside to listen for sirens and look for smoke. Seeing nothing but a beautiful southwestern sunset, I walked past our truck and hatchback to grab my mountain bike and head for the center of town.

I think this is some sort of reporter's instinct from covering natural disasters in the past, to grab the most versatile form of transportation, one that won't be susceptible to traffic jams. Or maybe I just got it from one of those disaster movies.

In town, there was no traffic and no chaos and no signals. We're cord-cutters here in Taos, so my quest was to find some sort of access to mass media to make sure there wasn't a state of emergency going down in my nearby hometown of Denver or elsewhere that was manifesting itself here in the form of this outage (again, I've probably watched too many of those movies). This is all a bit ironic, as I recently began renting a space here in the town of Taos because satellite Internet at our rural home 45 minutes from here wasn't cutting it despite my best efforts, which I chronicled in-depth for Crave.

Eventually I found a motel in town with unsecured Wi-Fi that seemed to be unaffected by the Internet outage. I turned on Wi-Fi on my smartphone and hopped on the network to check Twitter, Facebook, and Google News for any signs of the apocalypse. The news cycle was still dominated by the death of "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini. All quiet on the western front. Time to head back home and settle in with a Netflix disc for the night -- streaming "Arrested Development" was not an option.

No cells, no Internet, no service

Later, a friend who was working the front desk at a lodge told tales of guests who stood before her speechless and fumbling with devices for several minutes when told that both cell and Internet service was down. The crippling impossibility of the scenario seemed too much to comprehend.

This morning, word came down on local radio stations from the town police chief that the severed fiber line was to blame and that service would remain down for much of Thursday. Landline callers to the morning show seemed a little giddy, reveling in the relative sense of quiet throughout the town. Coffee shops without functioning Wi-Fi are nearly empty today; some have just given up outright and closed for the day.

Grocery stores and many other retail locations around town are accepting cash or check only, that is, if they're one of the fortunate outlets with cash registers that can still function at all offline. Of course, getting cash can be tough today with my bank closed because of the outage for "security reasons." And the ATM outside? Forget it.

Then there's the local wireless store that's been promoting a special event for some time now. They're having a barbecue and selling new cell contracts at a discount with free activation...eventually, it would seem.

And so here I am now, getting kicked out of this hotel lobby that seems to have the only nearby precious connection to the outside world. Maybe it's time to head back to the boonies where the Internet is slower, more expensive, and beamed in direct from orbit -- but at least it's a line that can't be cut...except for the day that it was, and I was forced to flee to this town to write about it.

Instead, maybe I should start honing my hunter and gatherer skills...or just stop watching all those apocalypse flicks and start stockpiling paperbacks for the next occasion when I'm transported back in time.