I grew up in the coldest city in the world. People die from frostbite on the road each winter in Yakutia, although those deaths could mostly be prevented. Because of its isolation, Yakutia has become a technological hub. But technology won’t save people who have break downs on the winter roads there.
Freezing to death several miles from civilization, knowing that you could survive if you had a little cellular signal or knew the location of the nearest settlement, it is a terrible death. Death from frostbite was common untill the end of the 20th century - without cars, heated buildings, mobile or satellite phones. But even now the casual trip to the nearest village can turn as dangerous as an expedition to the Polar Circle. It is a paradox of the 21st century - using the technology we can run the world. Without technology, we hardly survive.
What if I take away all your electronic gadgets and leave you at the center of let's say, New York? Probably, you will catch a cab to get your place. But you will lose your superpower of knowing the weather without going out, you will have to ask other people about directions and perhaps will feel a little bit lonely. But what if you are without any access to Internet in Beijing? People do not speak English much there, you do not know anything about the city, its climate, transportation system. How will you find the way to the hotel? Will you be able to provide yourself with Chinese food you can eat?
While we have technologies we can do anything. Now I am just looking at my phone and can list what kind of superpower do I have. So, I can talk to people not depending on their location, I can buy anything from any country, book a hotel, buy tickets, order a taxi, food delivery, create movies, listen to music, even earn money. And of course, I can find answers to any questions I have in particular situation. I run the world with this little piece of metal!
Two months after coming to Columbia I accidentally washed my phone in a washing machine and it broke. I never felt so powerless. I could not manage my routine life: starting from waking up without an alarm to making an appointment to the doctor. I can say that it is twice as hard to survive without technologies when you are far from your usual environment. What if we add extreme cold and lack of people to this unfamiliar circumstance?
It’s not that nothing can be done about the freezing deaths in Yakutia, it’s that the solution lies somewhere we are no longer used to looking: outside technology. A recent article in a newspaper described a couple who survived in -56F for two days. These people lived in a remote village without access to mobile service and the Internet. They knew how to orient without the compass and what to do to warm up - those simple skills saved their lives. The majority of cases when people die on winter roads happen with young people who grew up in the cities. They can not survive for several hours while waiting for searching teams.
The places with severe conditions or with dangerous natural disasters such as extreme cold in Yakutia can serve as a litmus test for our society. It is a reminder that we still can have situations when technologies are helpless. People must have some skills which we delegated to technologies to be able to trust themselves in critical cases when technologies are not available.
If I decide to go to visit my friend in a village which is 80 kilometers away without any cellular signal and my car breaks, what do I do? How can I determine my location without GoogleMaps? Even the compass relies on a smartphone signal.
In a technological society, we have learned to turn to technology for answers. However, sometimes the lowest tech answers are the most effective. What if we educated children in schools how to avoid freezing to death? Or added questions to the driving test about surviving in the extreme cold? Surely that would be a better option than what we are doing now.
I was born in Yakutsk - the coldest city in the world - and passed through all the educational institutions there: kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools, university. Surprisingly, I was not taught basic survival skills in any of those schools. No information about how to act in the cold while living in the coldest city in the world.