"Nothing works around here," Dan told me when I called him into lunch. He was frustrated because the lawn mower wouldn't start, and neither would his pick-up truck. The homemade coulter on his walk-behind tractor wasn't working correctly, the blade on the sickle mower needs replacing, and the chainsaw chain needed sharpening. Then there's the ever increasing pile of "junk", including a broken down tiller and a backyard leaf mulcher we'd like to sell, except the pull cord pulled off. On top of that, our washer, dryer, and electric summer stove are all on their last legs, as is the drip coffee pot.
I am reading an interesting book. I won it in Carolyn's giveaway at Krazo Acres, Better Off: Flipping The Switch on Technology. Two People One Year Zero Wattsby Eric Brende. He and his wife rented a home in the middle of an Amish-like community in order to experience life without modern technology. The book is the story of their experiences, thoughts, observations, and what they learned. He makes several noteworthy points.
One is how technology, with its promise of making our lives easier and more leisurely by saving us time, money, and work, has so come to dominate our modern lifestyles, that we are completely dependent upon it. It dictates what we do, when we do, and how we do it. We are helpless without it. He gave the example of a new cash register. Employees could not sell simple products because they didn't know how to operate it. Finally someone figured out they could calculate tax with pen and paper, and make change by hand.
This example relates to another point he makes, that as technology increases, human knowledge and skill decrease. I can only nod my head in agreement. We humans think we are so smart and advanced because we have computers, smart phones, and the internet. Yet who among us, of our own skill and knowledge, can fix a computer when it crashes? Or build a computer from scratch? We have more information, but less knowledge and less ability.
I figured out a long time ago that my so-called time saving kitchen devices were often more trouble to get out, set up, use, and clean up, than I thought worth it. So much quicker and easier to use a simple hand tool. While I can't deny that our walk-behind tractor and sickle mower have been truly useful tools for getting work accomplished, I must also acknowledge that they require a lot of time, work, and money to maintain.
It is difficult to criticize technology without being accused of going backward, or of being an isolationist. I know other homesteaders can relate. Another point made in this book is that, in fact, it is technology which isolates people. Agrarianism necessitates working together and fosters a sense of true human relationship and community. The community must come together to accomplish meaningful work. Our technology has taught us to focus on machines rather than people: we talk to cell phones or computer screens rather than face to face with real people. Our get-togethers focus on a presentation of entertainment rather than one another or on accomplishing a goal.
Those statements are somewhat generalized, of course, as is my next one. That it seems many modern day folks view technology as an all or nothing entity: either we have to embrace it all, or we're seen as rejecting it all. Rejecting part of it is viewed as rejecting all of it. I don't understand this thinking. Aren't we humans intelligent enough to pick and choose the level of technology which suits our personal needs and lifestyle? If I want to be actively involved in the processes of meeting our basic needs, why does that make me backward?
The wheel was a technological innovation at one time, as was the horse drawn plow and the steam locomotive. Those of us who desire a more hands-on, less technologically complicated lifestyle do so because we do not want to be totally dependent upon it. We do not want to lose the knowledge and skills which enable us to be independent. We do not want to spend all our time and money maintaining machines. We do not want our lives to revolve around them. We do not want to serve the machines, we want them to serve us.
It seems that the more time our technology saves us, the more frantic modern life becomes. All around me I see folks in a hurry and irritated because they aren't getting there fast enough. I've realized that if I don't want to live this way, I must learn a different way of looking at life. I need different, simpler goals. I must learn to be content with "less" by focusing more on doing rather than having. It necessitates slowing down and not doing everything at a breakneck speed. My progress is slower, but if my goal is a simpler lifestyle, then that's how it should be.
I can't say I've mastered any of this, I'm a work in progress. It helps to not have television and especially television advertising in my face. It helps to just take it a day at a time. It helps to not have much money. And especially it helps to know like-minded people through the internet, which, in light of what I'm saying, seems an odd thing to say. But that goes back to what I've been trying to say along, that technology should be a tool rather than a taskmaster.
What do you think?