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One of the major sources of conflict in my story is that, in my story's modern-day world, two to three times a year, a week-long supernatural effect is globally applied to everyone on Earth over the age of 13. These can range from relatively minor things like rendering them all mute, to the far more dangerous effects like making them all fall sideways instead of down.

Now, one thing that occurred to me early on with this concept is that there's a heck of a lot of human upkeep that needs to be done every day to keep society moving. Too much global disruption to everyone's work week, it stands to reason, could result in lasting damage to society and its various systems.

But given that there's a lot more going on in my story's world than just these periodic week-long events, asking about the consequences of any of the specific scenarios is going to be insanely complicated. So I thought I'd high-ball things to get something close to a worst-case-scenario in terms of how much an event like this could leave society unattended, then see what the various consequences of that would be and how long it would take to fix them.

So here's the scenario, and to keep things simple let's focus on America:

One Saturday afternoon, every single person on Earth who at that moment is 13 or older suddenly turns into a ghost. They're all still audible and visible (though semitransparent), can fly at about 20 mph in any direction they like, don't get hungry, tired, or have any biological needs at all, and are still wearing whatever they were wearing when it happened, but they cannot physically interact with anything, ghost or non-ghost, apart from their own body. Also, they can't leave the confines of the Earth's atmosphere, and when not flying are locked to the planet's general inertia and won't drift off into the sky as the planet moves.

Before this happens, everyone on Earth who would be affected is struck by a vague dizzy feeling, just enough to make them want to stop doing anything potentially dangerous like driving a vehicle. So assume no massive traffic accidents caused by millions of suddenly-unmanned vehicles. Also, assume no planes are flying when this happens.

This will last a week, after which everyone will turn back to normal(after being gently pushed upward out of any solid matter they may have been ghosting through at the time), and due to past experience with this world's magic system the fact that it will last a week is common knowledge. And it won't affect anyone who turns 13 during the week, only those who were already 13 or older when the event happened.

Basically, every single adult (and teenager) on Earth is rendered physically incapable of doing their jobs, and if they need something to be done during this week, they need to get a child to do it for them.

Now, that's the scenario. The first question about this scenario that I'd like to ask is what it would do to our electrical infrastructure. Power plants, power lines, everything that's involved in getting electricity to people's houses and keeping the America's lights on.

How much damage is this forced neglect of the world's infrastructure going to do to the power grid, what can the people, ghost adults and physical children, do while it's happening to mitigate the damage, and how long will it take before the power grid is back to normal?

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  • $\begingroup$ "Assume no planes are flying when this happens". Uhh… How on Earth would that be achieved?? $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Sep 12 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII I know it can't, but planes falling uncontrollably out of the sky is not going to be an issue with these events in the actual book, for various reasons it would take too long to explain here. $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde Sep 12 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ After a couple iterations, seems like there won't be many folks under 13: Most new babies will die during some of these varied weeklong events (as will many, many beloved family pets). You can leave a 12-year-old in charge of an infant for an afternoon, but not for a week. Crippled by grief, some families will dissolve. Surviving older children will be terribly scarred, blaming themselves for the deaths of their younger charges, Self-medication and suicide will be popular. Very few will care about the reliability of the electrical grid in the midst of such numbing, ongoing horror. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Sep 12 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ Can the ghosts talk? If the adults were right there telling the children what to do, the families would survive. $\endgroup$ – NadiraSpzirglas Sep 13 at 0:44
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    $\begingroup$ what about prepare generator set for each family to provide electric to each house, common for a third world country where a blackout is common to happen. and since i assume this is common occurence people may getting use to the phenomena later on anyway. $\endgroup$ – Li Jun Sep 13 at 0:48
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The grid will not survive intact.

A significant amount of technical knowledge and experience is required to keep an electrical grid functioning.

First, you need trained linesmen who can physically maintain the equipment. This job cannot be done by untrained 12 year-olds, even with ghost supervision. They will be electrocuted before the day is out.

Second, you need experts in grid control, current management, and switching. Without these, instabilities in current usage will result in cascading failures and ultimately render the grid inoperable. I estimate this will happen within 48 hours. Sooner if there is any kind of inclement weather. 12 year-olds, even with ghost supervision, will not have the required training or software familiarity to operate the control room. At least these children won't die.

Thirdly, you need to keep the generation sites running. Power stations suffer from both of the issues described above; They are both maintenance heavy, and need constant management of elements such as current flow and switching. Depending on your type of power station, it may automatically shut down, or it may suffer a catastrophic failure and explode. For reference, a pentane-based binary cycle geothermal powerplant supplying 25 megawatts contains sufficient flammable pentane that a failure causing a leak has the potential to detonate with a force similar to a small nuclear weapon.

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    $\begingroup$ Did you mean inclement weather? $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 13 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs Ah. Dang, yeah I did. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Sep 13 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ Thought so. Though I like the idea of incumbent weather. “I promise, if elected there shall be rain upon this mountain top until the end of my term!!” $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 14 at 13:19
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It’s already fairly obvious the power grid will not survive intact; there are too many jobs in this sector that require actual experience for ghosts to conceivably guide 12 year olds through.

I think the main reason for that does not lie in a twelve year old being capable of the job, especially if it’s just to mitigate problems for systems that mainly need programming or technical support, but because the twelve year olds of today’s generation are significantly less responsible than say, those from medieval times.

The biggest issue would be for the ghosts to actually convince the children to even go do their jobs. They would have to first find the children responsible enough to do the job, which would already be somewhat difficult. Secondly, they would have to convince the child to do the job, which would be nearly impossible. With all the children running rampant, with no clear hierarchy, the children will probably adopt a mob mentality, making it difficult for any adult (or anyone, persay) to easily control them. In a handful of cases the parents of the children could perhaps have enough authority, but this means that the number of children available to be employed for the task is very limited.

Children will also be much more timid, and be influenced by stereotypes or other notions developed during school. It may be hard for parents to convince their children to do dangerous tasks, and more likely, they wouldn’t force their children to do these in the first place. As such, the power lines across the country will fall completely into disrepair for the next week.

These two issues of limited manpower and the inability to do most of the dangerous physical work will lead to a fairly comprehensive collapse of the power grid, but optimistically, some of the damage can be prevented by the small number of responsible children.

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    $\begingroup$ I suppose a small number of responsible children who can be instructed on how to turn everything off might be feasible. $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Sep 13 at 23:28
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    $\begingroup$ The question makes it sound like this is a recurring event that has been happening for some time. If so, knowing that everything could go pear-shaped with only a few minutes warning would probably reduce 21st-century-style complaziness significantly, wouldn't it? $\endgroup$ – CAE Jones Sep 14 at 7:29
  • $\begingroup$ @ArkensteinXII that sounds like a good idea. Turning most of the dangerous reactors off would probably be the safest plan, since we know the children probably can't keep them running for long, and the potential risks of running it far outweigh the benefits. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d Sep 14 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @CAEJones In some instances, yes. However, the problem with electricity is that it is evil and wants to kill us. The only way we are able to stop this from happening is through constant vigilance! $\endgroup$ – Arkenstein XII Sep 15 at 9:00
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There are two takes on this in my mind. If your described ghost event suddenly happened in today's world the grid would fail as described in other answers, so I won't rehash that. However if these events as your question suggest happen several times a year, and have been for some time, the entire infrastructure system, and even the way society is structured would likely be designed around the lack of adults for a week. With a divergence from what we have today depending on how long these style of events have been happening. So it makes a big difference how long ago the events first started in relation to the timeline of your story.

For example, if these events have only been happening for a year or so, started in a 2018 version of our timeline, the main concern is going to still be getting through event with minimal damage, turning off the major power suppliers ahead of time and relaying on local power sources that require less over sight. So individuals or communities may have solar or wind power that can continue mostly unsupervised while the adults are ghosts. An easy to prepare weeks of rations would be stashed for the older kids to prepare for themselves and younger kids. At this point people are still adapting to the new normal, and some disruption is likely to occur, but the pieces get picked up afterwards.

If the events have been happening for decades instead, 1950 start time in our line, you will start to see more extreme changes, communal child reading is very likely. Essentially a boarding school for everyone from infants to 13. With the older kids 10+ being trained and trusted with running the school during gap the occasional weeks that the adults are ghosts. From a power standpoint the country will have started to move away from or have moved away from a national network. Passive power generation and effective ways to store it will take priority, and the grid will break into smaller units that can stand on their own of one does fail during an event.

If these events have been happening long enough, on the order of centuries, it is likely that society would have developed in a much different way than it did in our timeline and while the setting could be modern from a tech standpoint great liberties could be taken with what techs did or did not develop.

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