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.