Modern Conveniences: Help or Hinderance?
Nice to Have, Not Necessary
We are a very spoiled, privileged society. We take the modern conveniences so much for granted that we think of them as necessities instead of what they actually are, nice-to-have-items.
Look Outside Sometime
Yesterday the power went out at my home for about 15 minutes. In the dark for just those few minutes, many things happened to me. I first felt disoriented in my own home. I was panicked and totally at a loss as to what to do. Paralyzed, I looked around as though I didn’t know where I was. I glanced around the room wondering what had happened as though I had never really seen the room before. Nothing seemed familiar in the dark. I wondered first if I had forgotten to pay my power bill and became anxious about that until I remembered taking care of it only a week prior. I decided there must have been an accident nearby affecting a power line. No lights, no computer, no phone (even that is electric these days), no stove, no running water. After a few minutes, I got up to open the blinds on my windows and let in some sunlight. There was a breeze gently moving the trees, birds flying by and clouds in the sky threatening rain. It was a beautiful day and I hadn’t even noticed until the power went out.
Hypnotized by the Light of the Computer
I have become so accustomed to going directly to my computer in the mornings that I don’t even take stock of the real-world weather outside. The light of my computer has become more important to me than almost anything else. Part of that is my work, I realized but still no excuse. I create digital art and so I need my computer, but I’m there more than I need to be each day.
Years ago I read a SciFi novel about the end of civilization caused by World War 3 called Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. The second thing the bombs affected, after killing millions of people, was that electricity was gone. The story was about how a remote town far enough from the detonations to be spared the radiation fallout, dealt without the modern convenience of electricity. No lights, no refrigerators or freezers, no washing machines or dryers, no sewing machines. Even cars were useless with limited gas left in the town.
Alas, Babylon trailer
What would you do if there were no electricity?
The people started by having the “steak fry barbecue to end all barbecues” literally before all the defrosted meat in town went bad. They gave the cars and all the siphoned gas to the one person they wanted to be able to get around: the doctor. The loneliest person in town became the most popular person in town: the librarian. And bartering became the new currency. The beekeeper had honey to trade; the seamstress with the only foot-pump sewing machine became very essential to mend and make clothing; the carpenter kept people’s homes in good repair.
Coffee, Tea, Salt, Sugar...
Several of the men in town organized a trek to the nearest salt flats for the necessary food: salt. You don’t think about doing without coffee, tea and salt until all communication and contact with the outside world are gone. If anything happened we would be finding ways to do without coffee, tea, salt, sugar, etc., unless you could home grow it or manufacture it yourself. Herbal teas and home remedies would become important. Anyone with knowledge of how to do things the pioneers did would become invaluable.
15 Minutes in the Dark
You start to realize that all those things that you thought were essential really aren’t. Shelter, food, safety, and health are all that’s really essential. After that, it’s just nice to have.
In those 15 minutes, I remembered that book and started to look at my valued equipment differently. When the refrigerator, computer, and lights came back on, I wanted to hug them all and thank them for their service. They aren’t essential, but they are so very nice to have.
What Would You Do in the Face of Disaster?
Do you know what you would do in the face of disaster? Do you have a plan at all? Or would you just sit in the dark, paralyzed by inconvenience? If we were without power for any real length of time (say weeks) would you be able to function at all? Cooking, heating water, and keeping food cool or from spoiling would all be things to think about. If you rely on your cell phone for everything, how would you be able to recharge the battery? Many people have car chargers today but what if gas was a vital commodity that could not be replenished? Would you use it to charge your phone? Could you live off the grid if you had to?
Do you have an emergency checklist? Maybe it would be a good idea to have things in place (at least a contingency plan) in case of power outages if nothing else. This blackout made me think. Do I have water in bottles? Check. Do I have a cooler to store food so it won’t go bad in a few days? Check. Do I have batteries and solar cells for back up? Check? I found out that I didn’t have but one flashlight and only 3 batteries in the house. Time to make a reasonable checklist and stock up on emergency equipment. I don’t live in a hurricane or cyclone-prone area but I do live in California, and we have had earthquakes from time to time. In my area, we usually only have the shock waves from the more at risk areas but even shock waves can take out the power lines. How about a first aid kit? Oops. I don’t have one. I did find a first aid checklist to create my own online. This is helpful.
What about neighbors? We tend to pull away from our vital team resources: neighbors. In a crisis, those people around you would be a key element in survival. We would have to learn the lesson of “stone soup” again. Do you remember the children’s story of Stone Soup? It is a very old story about a traveler who came to a town devastated by famine and war. The winter was setting in and the people were all scared they would not live to see spring. The traveler went from door to door asking for a little food and all the people said the same thing, that they didn’t have any food left. So the traveler went to the town square, build a fire and put a large black pot on the fire filled with water. He made sure that everyone was peering out the windows at him as he carefully selected a large smooth stone from the road and ceremonially dropped it into the boiling water. Overcome with curiosity, one of the men watching came out and asked what he was doing. “Oh, I’m making stone soup for my dinner.” The man was startled. Stone soup? He had never heard of it. “Oh, yes, it’s a delicacy. I have enough for you and your family too. Would you like to join me?” After a while, more people came out to watch. The traveler sipped the soup and said it was almost done but if only there was an onion to drop into it too, it would be perfect. One of the men said he had an onion and ran back into the house to get it and drop it into the soup. The traveler sipped again and said it would be perfect if only they had a potato to add. Another town’s man said he had a couple of potatoes and ran to get them and add them to the soup. The traveler said it would be so much better if only they had some carrots to add. You guessed it. Someone else had carrots. Eventually, they had a lovely soup but only because everyone in town contributed to the mix. Alone, they didn’t have enough but together, they had plenty.
Life Is a Collaborative Effort
In a crisis, we will need to get to know our neighbors, a commodity we don’t take into consideration today. Today we don’t even know who our neighbors are most of the time. We don’t bother to learn their names or their backgrounds unless we are angry with them, their music, or their pets. It is sad really. It seems to me that life should be a collaborative effort and not a solitary event.
Living off the grid
Dependent on Devices
Another thing is that our electric devices are deemed essential but before electricity everything was manual. Thomas Edison did really mean for us to get so dependent upon this commodity that we couldn't function without it. They still have manual sewing machines, manual lawn mowers, manual kitchen mixers, and manual washing machines. It can be done; it just won’t be as convenient. Cookstoves without electricity use fire. Fire has certainly been around for a long time and will still be here when electricity is but a memory.
Take a Break Today
Give your machines and computers a break today and take a walk. Enjoy the free scenery and lovely weather while you can.