Convenience Culture

Rachel here. This week’s a bit of a crazy week for Chris and I, as we’re both involved with our local Bicycle Festival which kicks off tomorrow. As a result, I’m not sure we’ll have time to post anything new in the next few days. Instead, I’m going to share a relevant post I wrote last year for my other blog about one of the greatest detriments to self-sufficiency – convenience culture and technology dependence.

It’s undeniable that the 21st century has brought forth some wonderful technological advances that have truly enriched our lives – and some of those advances certainly fall into the category of convenient. I’m publishing my thoughts for you to read right now because of new technology – the internet. As such, this is not a blanket criticism of convenience, simply a lament for some of the things that have been lost with its growth.

One hundred years ago, if you didn’t know how to cook, clean, mend clothes, chop wood, and build a fire, you were going to be hungry, naked, and cold – unless you were quite wealthy and able to afford assistance. In 2011, dinner can be a matter of pushing some buttons on the microwave (or the phone), clothes are mass-produced and very inexpensive (assuming you’re not fussy about brand), and heat is a matter of pushing a button in most households. The basic necessities of survival no longer come down to acquiring skills, but are instead provided for us.

While many would argue that those old-fashioned skills are now redundant, I can think of a couple of reasons why that’s absolutely not true. Lets start with the most essential reason – survival. We take technology for granted. We rely on it for everything, and tend to assume it will always be there for us. But what happens when things go wrong?

Lets take a look at “The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003”. This was a massive power outage stretching across Southeast Canada and Northeast USA, leaving approximately 50 million people without power for up to two days. This blackout caused $6 billion damage and 11 people died as a result. That’s right, that much devastation was caused by two days without electricity. If a natural disaster were to strike, such as an earthquake or a hurricane, we would surely lose power again, and this is clearly an indication that we are in no way equipped to handle life without electricity. During the blackout there was looting, mass hysteria, a state of emergency was declared – people didn’t know how to function without electricity. The very infrastructure of the cities in which people lived was so dependent on electricity that life came to a screeching halt and panic ensued when that system failed – there was no back up plan.

Now lets talk about another blackout – “The Great Grove Gallagher Blackout of 2006”. Not familiar with that one? Probably not – as it only hit my grandparents farm, Grove Gallagher. In 2006, I lived with my grandparents for the summer to help them take care of their 25 acre farm. One hot day in August, a bad thunderstorm hit. My grandparents farm is far back from the road, so they have to provide their own power line out to the street to use municipal power. During the storm, a tree fell on this line, knocking it to the ground, and taking the power with it. They called the city for help putting the line back up (something they have to pay for, since they’re off the main line). City workers came, and established that they would need to order a new part to install the new line. It was going to take at least a week for the part to come in. That meant no electricity for at least a week, and this being a farm, also no running water (electricity is needed to draw water up from the well on the property). And you know what? We were just fine.

A neighbour brought over a huge barrel of water on the back of her ATV for us to use. Knowing that all the food was going to thaw in the freezer, we cooked most of it on the barbecue in the first couple of days (you can’t refreeze thawed food – especially meat) and ate it throughout the week. We would get up when the sun came up, work outside in the morning while it was cool, move into the shade during the hottest parts of the day, play Scrabble, eat lunch, and then get back to work when the sun was lower in the sky. In the evening, we would eat dinner, play cards, and enjoy eachother’s company until the sun went down, at which point we’d go to bed. To be honest, besides a little extra work when we needed water, and the lack of a fridge, life wasn’t a whole lot different without power. Because we still had some basic self-sufficiency skills, and had not fully committed ourselves to electricity-dependent living, we knew how to handle a power outage.

My cousin at Grove Gallagher
But lets move on to the other major reason why old-fashioned self-sufficiency skills still hold value in 2010: bestowing a sense of pride and accomplishment. There is nothing that even begins to compare to the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing that the clothes you’re wearing or the food you’re eating was made by your own two hands. The appeal of convenience, and honestly, laziness can often prevent us from even trying to make things ourselves, but I believe we truly miss out when taking the easy route. I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this. Yesterday we had friends over for dinner. I know how to make pies, but instead, I bought one from the store because I didn’t feel like putting all the effort into making one from scratch. It’s easy to fall into this trap, and while the job gets done either way – you really do lose a lot by skipping the process of making it yourself.
There are of course other reasons for self-sufficiency. When we’re talking about food, there are obvious health benefits to skipping the preservative-filled instant stuff and cooking your own. Making your own clothes allows you to have custom fit clothes that are definitely sweatshop-free. These reasons are also very important to me, but they are also well-known reasons, while the first two reasons are often overlooked or forgotten entirely. Survival and sense of purpose are key reasons for self-sufficiency and shouldn’t be underestimated.
As Aristotle once said: “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient”.

One thought on “Convenience Culture

  1. ps. For reasons unknown, I can’t get the spacing to cooperate in the last chunk of text (under the photo of my cousin. That’s supposed to be three different paragraphs, but it insists on publishing in one big block. Ah well.

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