Shoshana Zuboff
Business Week
July 16, 2008

The Polar ice cap may be melting, but the U.S. economy is frozen, starting right here in my small town. Gradually rising levels of dismay at the gas pump and in the supermarket gave way to paralytic shock last week when “lock-in” notices from the local fuel company arrived. This year’s advance price for home heating oil is nearly twice what people paid last year. A collective gasp of disbelief from my tough, resourceful Maine neighbors echoed across the meadows and up the rocky coast. Many claimed they would never sign the contract. “What’s your alternative?” I asked a friend.

“I don’t have one,” he muttered.

In the days that followed, a new quality of dread settled over the place like soot, as people weighed their options. Heat or food? Gas or electricity? Medicine or mortgage payments? What to give up? What to cut back? The conversations were everywhere. In the supermarket, I heard one man tell another: “When I was a kid, you woke up, went into the bathroom, and broke up the ice in the toilet. Now my kids will have to do the same. America is moving backward.”

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