You’ve seen this exchange in movies and TV shows and plays and you’ve read it in books and short stories:
“Oh! Cuthbert!” Margareta exclaimed. “We need help! Quickly! Telephone the authorities!”
“Please, my dear; despite the dreadful circumstances, you must try to calm yourself. Calling the police is exactly what I was about to do.” Cuthbert picked up the handset and listened for the dial tone, but only silence greeted his eagerly waiting ear. He flicked the hook several times in rapid succession but failed utterly to establish a connection. He slowly, deliberately replaced the handset on its cradle. “The storm has knocked out the lines,” he reported grimly. “We’re completely cut off from the outside world.”
The lightning flashed and the thunder crashed as if to underscore Cuthbert’s announcement.
This scenario is on my mind at present because a storm rolled through and cut the power while I slept. When I awoke and discovered the problem, I called the local electric company; those nice people sent two trucks (complete with drivers and repairmen) to replace the lightning-damaged transformer and meter so my ice cream wouldn’t melt.
Then I discovered that the phone line was out, as well. In some areas of the United States, as of even date, that means that the backup battery that supplies power to the fiber optic line after a power failure has either been used up or was itself damaged by the storm. It must be the latter, because it won’t recharge and it won’t permit normal plugged-in use. Keep this technological flaw in mind when your phone company announces you’re getting fiber optic cable; it is not an unvarnished joy. Likely, though, the surge also destroyed the phone wiring on the side of the house, like it does.
Both my landline and my Internet connection are down as I write this. And, unlike the local power people, the phone company doesn’t send someone out to perform repair work on weekends unless three or more households in the neighborhood are affected. No one else has complained, so I’m offline.
That leaves only my cell phone and my amateur radio equipment and my car for connecting with the outside world.
My only point (aside from crabbing about both the phone company and technology that isn’t really ready for public use) is that it would be difficult to insert this scene into a story now because it’s been done so often; it’s cliché, and it doesn’t matter that it still happens. Unless you’re writing about an earlier time, it’s harder than ever to cut your characters off from contact with the rest of humanity; you’ve got to work at it to get the job done believably.
(And once I’m back online and can post this, what do I find waiting for me? Almost 50 spam comments I have to log and destroy. If Mark Twain had had a blog, he might have said it a little more strongly than “the damned human race.”)