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There was a power outage in my area this morning. I woke up to find I’d been hurtled back in time, in fact, some of it before my time. Despite my constant longing to re-experience the good old days, it did not come as a pleasant surprise when it happened. I couldn’t recharge my electronic reader or my mobile phone, and when I opened the fridge door the light was out (I’m still no wiser about what happens to that light when the door is shut). No radio, no computer (oh, woe is me) and the television was a blank cipher squatting sullenly in the corner. Thankfully I could still pour some water into a saucepan and make a cup of coffee on my gas fuelled stove. If I hadn’t had that gas stove, I would have had to gather some twigs pronto and make a little camp fire in the lounge room. I would have done whatever it took to get my caffeine fix. I need it first thing in the morning to regenerate and stimulate my brain cells. Didn’t take much time for me to revert to type did it? That’s what worries me. And I’m not nearly as electronically advanced or as reliant on my gadgets as my contemporaries are.

Have you heard the saying, ‘going to bed with the chickens?’ It must have been a truism formulated before electricity widened our horizons. Going to bed early was the only form of entertainment open to those deprived souls, well maybe not so deprived given how many children the stork used to drop on their doorstep as a result of the early to bed early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise maxim; but the entertainment was limited. Take away my modern conveniences and I find myself in those people’s shoes, or in their slippers. Who am I, really, without my gadgets? When they work, I feel superior to my predecessors, without them I’m no better than those ancestors who huddled in a cave after sunset, picking lice out of each other’s hair before knocking themselves out for the night with their clubs.

There used to be decades between inventions; the exponential rate of change today is dramatic and has taken over every aspect of our life. We had time once to appreciate and enjoy the new and never gave a second’s thought to what happened to the old. The world was not at risk if you took an invention away.

If someone had got rid of tractors or cars after they had arrived people would still have horses ride around in or use them to plough the fields. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world as we know it. Today a handful of horses exist so that we can bet on them. We keep only what is useful to us and rid ourselves of the rest.
It’s frightening to think where we are heading. Vernor Vinge, a mathematician and author, wondered the same in 1986 when he set down his thoughts on ‘exponentially accelerating technological change in an SF novel, Marooned in Realtime. The novel is set in a world of rapidly accelerating progress leading to the emergence of more and more sophisticated technologies separated by shorter and shorter time intervals, until a point beyond human comprehension is reached.’ (Wikipedia)
On a personal level, I can’t keep up with the many digital electronic devices, and being the dinosaur that I am, I’m not sure whether I want to. I do admit to the lure of modern conveniences. I have got used to them and would find myself unwilling to do without if they were taken from me.

Although I have never met her, I imagine that my grandma managed just fine without microwaves and mobile phones. She didn’t shop online and she didn’t Google. Then again, you don’t miss what you’ve never had, I would. I have my biros, and used them to get this article started but as I’ve mentioned in the past, there’s nothing like a computer when it comes to the cut and pastes. Thankfully there are still hard copy books at the library to access for research but I did miss my friend, the internet. I know how to knit and crochet so I suppose I could knit myself a dress if forced to it, but I’d have to shear the sheep first, and spin the wool before I could get started. I’d be raising chickens for eggs, and then killing them for meat. First catch your meat, then wring its neck or chop it off, or shoot it. It’s enough to make one a vegetarian, but then one would have to grow the veggies, wouldn’t one? And I don’t know how to do it in a sustainable manner. At least I own a plot of earth. How would I go about harvesting seeds? A friend, (before that sort of thing became fashionable) made pancakes from scratch. That is, she ground her own flour and kept her own hens for eggs. The water to mix it with came from a tap, though, and the milk from the fridge. To give her credit, her back yard was too small to keep a cow, or I’m sure she would have done so.

Progress is like a house of cards all smoke and mirrors. I predict that the slightest breath of wind is going to knock our little world down. One nuclear holocaust or a powerful solar flare, and we’ve had it; all our lovely headway gone. I don’t quite remember which movies exactly, but I used to watch end of the world type scenarios where the radio always worked. It had to, so you could check out if there were survivors at the other end of the world. In real life, the radios aren’t gonna work, neither are iPhones or microwaves or all those other things that make our lives comfortable. There’s no going back and after my electricity free experience today, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, but I would wish we could put the brakes on progress and give ourselves the chance to prepare for the possibility of its retreat. I’m not an expert, just an opinionated old biddy. So, my suggestions are simple ones. (If you have something better to offer, I want to hear it.) Perhaps we can set up alternative lifestyle courses, promote hobby farms and make them affordable and support and respect farmers a bit more than we currently do and rediscover the old arts and crafts. I strongly believe that there has to be a plan B in reserve.

There you have it, gloomy prognostications on the end of the world as we know it. Thankfully for us all, it was only a couple of hours before the lights went on and I could get back to a life that requires no reflection.

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23 thoughts on “New lamps for old

  1. That happens now and then around here too. But I am convinced that my ancestors did not go to bed with the chickens. Meaning that even before the gas lamp, and the oil lamp, there were people who stayed up with candles till the middle of the night. And though they didn’t have anything in their lives quite as dramatic as the lack of ‘electricity’ all of a sudden, there were those downs like the donkey or the milk cow getting sick. Or even worse, one of the children or one’s self getting sick. Or an enemy approaching. Or a heavy snow… Nowadays, when there’s an electrical outage, I still have my laptop with its internal battery to keep me connected. Sometimes I light a candle. And recently I light an electric lamp that runs on batteries when there’s no power… and there is something romantic about working on the computer by candlelight. I even have a cell modem that works for me when the wifi goes out because of the electric outage. Thank you so much for your recommendation of Marooned in Realtime. I will find it and read it now. I am looking for western books that might give me a better understanding of what’s happening in the west, without bringing me to sadness and despair.

    I have the feeling that you are much more immersed in the technological world than I am though, and more dependent on it. I don’t feel so removed from books and writing with a pen. Though when I have to write with a pen it doesn’t seem quit as normal, as smooth, and as simple as it used to be. I truly believe that after a nuclear holocaust, there won’t be anyone alive to worry about how to milk the cow in order to make pancakes. As for ‘plan B’, it seems to me an impossibility. We humans are ingenious. If there is a general failure of the electrical world, we will find a way to overcome it. But I don’t believe it would be to our advantage to create an alternative while we are still moving inevitably forward. Thank you for a very interesting post, Mary.

    • Shimon, I wish I had recommended Marooned in Realtime, but I have to confess it wasn’t me. Although I went through a Science Fiction phase years ago, I’ve somehow never got around to reading Vernor Vinge. I’m not sure about contemporary writers, but you might want to read Ruth Park’s Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange. And D’Arcy Niland’s Shiralee.

      Not knowing you really, I can’t compare, but I’m immersed in my elderly mobile (not IPhone) and my laptop an
      d my IPod. I love my biros and do use them but am hooked on computer writing these days, there you go, I admit it. But that’s the extent of it.

      My negative side generally emerges in the middle of the night and believes as you do that there’s not going to be anyone left after a nuclear holocaust. My daytime self hopes there’s got to be a few lucky people to begin the human experiment all over again.
      I was being flippant about a plan B. I don’t find progress depressing so much as the lack of hindsight. Paraphrasing a song about war, I ask: where have all the composers gone, the artisans? Gone to progress every one.

  2. One power outage in Central New York years ago happened on Ash Wednesday. We called it “Ice Wednesday” because ice seemed to coat everything. We might have been without power for several days. It was a lark only because it was so brief and we didn’t freeze to death.

    One thing I noted about change from my Grammy’s day is communication. On Sunday, our family went out for breakfast. As we left the eatery, there were about 20 people sitting on the curb waiting to get in. They were glued to their cell phones. No doubt they had friends there with them. Yet they tuned out the face-to-face contact in favor of Facebook updates and texting. Sad.

  3. Hi there,
    My hubby and I choose to live in a semi-remote place because of the many benefits it holds. Mother Nature cannot be outdone and where we live is on a breahtakingly beautiful small island. During winter when gale force winds knock down trees that dive over power lines we are without power. That usually doesn’t last more than a day but it can stretch into two or three days so we are prepared to cope without power. We have water stored, a full pantry and a camp cookstove and candle power. Most of all we have a lot of experience with being off the grid and loving it. Suddenly one has the time to actually relax and read without interruption, piece jigsaw puzzles, knit, crochet, chop kindling and firewood, take long walks, chat and laugh and talk and make music with friends. It’s almost like camping with most of the comforts of home. Though others may not like being off the technological tit, we do do quite well without being continually fed the electronic skim milk diet. We find living life without power to be a personally empowering experience.

      • TT, I’m not sure what a strong tag is. Were you being facetious, because if not, then what an interesting person you are. Then again, how are you keeping a blog without power? Honestly, I just love my blogger friends.

      • If you click the edit link on my comment you will be seeing it in HTML. There’s a missing tag that was meant to close the open strong tag that creates bold lettering.

        Most of the time we do have power but not all of the time. 🙂

      • Dear Time Thief, finally I got some of it. That is I found the section where I can edit. I’d be happy to delete your comment if you want me to, but whether it was on purpose or accidental I enjoyed your comment. I like it that you loved it. That’s enough for me. As for power, my dear TT, in the blogging sense I am (as you’ve surely noticed) pretty basic and on a personal level I have no power at all. I’ll have to find a laughing group of my own. 🙂

  4. Our electricity went out for a few hours a couple of weeks ago, and my only concern was who was willing to make the Starbucks run before the caffeine withdrawals set in! All of the distractions, electronics, etc. seem to take the place of a lot of hard work. While I’m eternally grateful for the modern conveniences that save us so much toil and trouble, we’re missing out by not having some of that honest day’s work back. Great piece – made me appreciate what we have:)

    • Thanks, Ashley. I can relate to those caffeine withdrawals, Soon after I wrote this article, I bought a percolator that can sit on the stove. Not getting caught out again.

  5. Hi Mary! I come back to find you have a new name and curtains! I like both. And what a thought-provoking post! We are terrible here when we are without power. I try to keep our gadgets charged so we have some form of entertainment for a while, but we would be so pathetic if we were a long time without power. You’re right – losing our power grid, or experiencing a catastrophic event would be enough to send our world into chaos. There definitely should be a Plan B. If nothing else, we should keep a healthy supply of canned goods on hand.

    Hope you are well! Things are good here.

    • Hooray! Does that mean your new novel is done and dusted? Lovely to hear from you, Maddie. We don’t have a back up plan and we’re headed for a fall. Every industry depends on electronics to function. It’s scary. Keeping to topic – is there something strange happening on your blog, Maddie? I can’t seem to access any other sections than this one.

      • The new book is done! Mom called today and said she finished reading it, and she liked it a lot. She laughed about quite a few things and liked the ending, so I’m happy. For the first time, I’ll be using an editor. I’ll hear back from her tomorrow as to when she wants it.

        I can make myself a tad crazy if I think too hard about how dependent we are on technology and government. When that Y2K mess came about years ago, we stocked the house up with months worth of food. Of course, it’s all gone now, and I rarely think to plan for even a winter storm that could leave us a week or more without power.

        I haven’t done anything on my blog lately, so I have no idea if anything is wonky over there or not. I’ll look into it tomorrow. Nice to chat with you, Mary!

  6. Oh, I hate when the electricity goes out. I did turn my cellphone off yesterday and didn’t turn it on until an hour before bed. It was nice. I hear you on technology could slow down a bit. I would starve if we had to raise our own food again. I’m terrible with plants and I wouldn’t be able to kill any meat. Great insight. Really makes a person think.

  7. Ha! Yeah, we all rely on our devices, gadgets, and appliances. We saw caravans with satellite dishes, aerials, multiple solar panels. The occupants were “roughing” it with TV, Internet, hairdryer and microwave.

    • I must admit that though you took pictures and posted every other day I was imagining you roughing it. I guess the definition of roughing it has been expanded to allow for satellite dishes and solar panels.

      • No hairdryer or TV in my van and only whatever 3G connectivity Telstra provides, the rest was done with a DSLR and an iPad. Telstra has reasonable coverage Australia wide, ( forget the other Telcos) with towers along the major highways, reception at towns and communities, and some roadhouses will sell you WIFI connectivity in 1/2 hr blocks if you really must have the internet. We carried a satellite phone for emergency contact. We were roughing it my city standards!

  8. I’m with you on a lot of this Mary. My kids don’t have much trouble keeping up with the tech. changes though, so I guess that says something about me. On the other hand, they like listening to a lot of the oldies and I think that’s a good thing. It worries me that they can’t imagine being without a mobile or staring at its screen.

    • Both my grandsons, two and four year old, can flip through an iPhone. They love to check out the family pictures and the older one loves the angry bird game. Saw a lot of angry bird products in the shops but never knew, till recently, what they were or why they were angry. You and I are of an age, we’re never going to keep up with the changes. But we have a foot on either side of the technological barrier which is good, because we can remember when. I think listening to a lot of oldies is great. I’m training up my little ones to enjoy hard copy books – I take them to the library every week.

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