Monday, January 23, 2017

Embracing Technology

In one of the reviews on Amazon of my book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil, I was accused of being a luddite.  I won't lie.  I had to look up that word.  When I did, I thought, maybe I am.

But also *not*! 

By definition a luddite is a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

So, yes, I am opposed to increased industrialization, because we are discovering that industrialization is damaging us as creatures of the Earth. We have removed ourselves from the ebb and flow of nature, and there is evidence to support that this detachment from our true selves has done more harm than good.

So, yes.  I am fully in support of the denouncing the belief that more technology, more industrialization, is better.  The question is better for whom, but the answer is almost never for the masses.  More technology, more industrialization, is always better for the people who are developing and owning these technologies, than it is for the general public.  Even in this country, the use of coal to further our climb up the mountain to Peak Industry, resulted in environmental disasters and abject poverty.  Since all of that misery happened deep in the hollows of the Appalachian Mountains, most people never saw it, and so never had to be worried all that much about how their lives of luxury were affecting their fellow countrymen.  Now, we don't even see it at all, because it's happening in places with names most of us can't even pronounce correctly.

That said, I will allow that some technologies have benefitted us, as a culture (although perhaps not as sentient beings).  As a culture, having a system of sanitary disposal of waste has much improved our lives, although I don't think we are really using the best technologies available for this purpose.  The average US household uses 100 gallons of water per day per person.  A quarter of that is from flushing toilets.  If we were to transition to a composting toilet combined with a methane digester, we could kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.  We could practice sanitary waste disposal, by composting our excrement, inside a methane digester that would produce gas for cooking, heating water and/or producing electricity.  By doing so, we could eliminate the need to frack natural gas and mine coal.  We could, literally, power the world with our shit.  And the residuals of methane production are clean water and compost - for use in the garden.  If we have pets (like cats that use a litter box) or farm animals, we could produce even more methane by adding their wastes to the digester. 

I love technology, when it's beneficial and necessary across the board without resulting in collateral damage.  Like methane digesters, which get rid of something we don't want and produce something we can use, without destroying large swaths of natural habitats.  That's exactly the kind of technology we should be trying to promote.

In the Amazon review, the reason given for labeling me a luddite was actually quite funny.  The reviewer said that I was a luddite because I said that Deus Ex Machina preferred to hand-split wood rather than using a gas-powered wood splitter.  Deus Ex Machina and I were accused of working harder, not smarter.  (!)

I had to wonder if the reviewer had actually read and understood the premise of the book. 

Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs: the Thrivalist's Guide to Life Without Oil describes a future in which using a gas-powered splitter would no longer be possible - because gasoline would be either prohibitively expensive or no longer available.  My discussion about Deus Ex Machina preferring hand-splitting to using a wood splitter was to comment on the fact that many of us are physically ill-prepared to transition to a handmade lifestyle.  At best, we just can't split the wood, because we're too weak.  At worst, we don't have the knowledge (and make no mistake, there really is a skill to it).  Either way, if we can't split wood, we will be cold.

By knowing how to and being able to split wood by hand, Deus Ex Machina has conditioned his body in the event that this something happens.  In fact, we do use a splitter, when it's available and the best option at that moment, but most of the splitting is done by hand.  It's a chore he enjoys.  My mother-in-law likes to hand wash dishes, and so she chooses not to have a dishwasher.  That does not make her a luddite anymore than it makes us luddites.  Preferring to do some things by hand is not the equivalent of hating technology.

But back to that. 

Living in our culture demands that we do, actually, embrace certain technologies.  When I had my home-based business, I quickly realized that I needed a phone (a listing in the Yellow Pages was my cheapest and best option for advertising my business in those days).  I also needed Fax capabilities.  I needed to be able to connect to the Internet, because I needed email.

As my business took off, I expanded my knowledge base, and I started learning some very basic web design techniques.  Today, having a business requires having a website.  No one even knows how to use the yellow pages anymore. 

Being a home-based entrepreneur, I (by necessity) embraced technology.  Having access to the Internet is what allowed me to be a Virtual Assistant, and my tagline was "I can do anything from my home office that I could do at your location ... except file!"  I worked with my clients through the Internet, via email, and by Fax and phone.  There was a time, even, when my clients were scattered across the continent.  I had clients in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Kentucky, and all over the State of Maine.  I worked from home in front of this little screen and managed to do their work without ever visiting their offices. 

These days, as an author in a very niche subject, I am dependent on this technology to spread information about what I do.   My book publisher is in Canada ... on the other side of Canada (the West coast.  I'm on the East coast).  I've never been to their offices.  I've been on radio shows and pod casts all over the US and in the UK and Australia.  Thanks to technology.

Because my income stream is/was dependent on the Internet, and most of what I did was secretarial in nature, I needed to maintain certain equipment, and I really needed a reliable and cost-effective  phone and Internet Service Provider. 

With regard to landline service and Internet service when I started my business at the end of the 20th Century, we were really limited.  One phone company serviced my whole area.  Any other "providers" were really subletters of those companies.  There's an ISP in this area that is really just piggy-backing on Fairpoint's lines.  In the early days of high-speed Internet, there were two choices: broadband cable with its static IP address, and DSL with its dynamic (i.e. changing) IP address.  Dynamic IP addresses were less vulnerable to cyberattacks in those days.  I chose DSL. 

Until last summer, that's what I had. 

I dissolved my business in the Spring 2016.

I disconnected the landline in the Summer 2016.

Before we cut the cord, though, we did a lot of research into what our best option would be.  First, we tried getting an Internet-only connection through a local ISP that provided a DSL connection.  Cutting the phone and having only an Internet connection with our previous provider would have cost a $50 installation fee, plus almost as much per month as we were paying for a phone with call-waiting, voicemail, free regional calling, and a separate ring for the Fax and the Internet connection.  WTH?  How is it cheaper for them to provide EXTRA services? 

The company we called said that we could have them come in and connect the new modem for $50 for the service call, or we could just plug in the new box when it arrived by ourselves.  We opted to plug-and-play ourselves and save $50 and the bother of having some stranger person come into my bedroom/office.  I mean, how hard could it be?  Deus Ex Machina is an engineer with a degree from an Ivy League college.  He's a smart guy. 

The new modem arrived with no installation instructions.  We called the company.  They said "just plug it in."  It didn't work.  We called again.  They told us it was a "level 2" problem.  Their "level 2" help desk closes at 5:00.  Deus Ex Machina, the one they needed to talk to about what to do, doesn't get home until 5:30.  They suggested a $50 service call. 

See where this is going?  They *said* it could be a DIY installation, but provided no instructions and no support.  I was starting to feel scammed.  

After two weeks of wrangling back and forth, and four days with no internet at all, we decided to move completely away from a wired Internet into the Brave New World of mobile hotspots.

At first, we purchased a hotspot device through a cellphone company.  It's actually pretty cool, and  one of the selling points, for us, was that we could take it with us.  So, in the rare, but real, occasion when we were traveling and staying in a hotel that charged extra for Wi-Fi in our rooms, we could have our own Wi-Fi with our hotspot and pay no extra.  Save money?  Twist my arm.  

It also used a lot less electricity than the router and modem that we used when we had the wired Internet - because those electronics were always plugged in.  The hotspot device only needed to be plugged in to charge it (like a cellphone). 

Unfortunately, the hotspot wasn't optimal for my family, because it did not provide unlimited Internet access.  I mean, it did, but the access went from smoking hot to dial-up speed once we'd used up the whatever-number-of-high-speed-gigs we were allowed per billing period.  It took us about four days to use up our gigs.  So, we spent the rest of the month with a sloth-speed Internet connection. 

We started making some adjustments to how we used the Internet, which has, actually, turned out to be a positive (probably a post for a different day).  

Then, our cellphone provider offered this amazing deal.  We could get an individual hotspot on each of our cellphones, and that's where we are now.  We each already had our own laptops.  Part of our transition from landline to cellphone was ensuring that everyone had a cellphone.  Now, we have our own cellphones and our own laptops, and we can connect our own laptops to our own personal hotspots. 

So, here's the breakdown:

We were paying  around $80/month for the landline/Internet (*if we made no long-distance calls* - long-distance service cost $5/month, plus $0.10/minute for each call. With several out-of-state relatives and out-of-region clients, it could get pricey).  Our cellphone account for four phones cost us around $140/month.  Our monthly output for phones and the Internet was $220. 

We cut the landline/Internet and then added another phone to our cellphone account ($20).  The addition of a hotspot on each phone increased our cellphone bill by another $40/month.  We're now paying around $200 for the total package - phone and high-speed Internet.  We could save an extra $20 if we had automatic payment.  We haven't decided to save that extra $20, yet, because I just don't like automatic payments.  Too much can go wrong.

We've embraced technology as a wonderful luxury to have.  We like being able to connect to the Internet and keep in touch with our relatives who live "away."  My mother, now, has a smartphone, and she's been sending me texts.  My daughter-in-law plays Words with Friends with me.  It's wonderful to be able to connect to them. 

The thing is, though, that I acknowledge that these technologies - most modern technologies - are luxuries.  The cellphones, the Internet, our cars, the gas-powered woodsplitter, the snow blower, flush toilets, electricity ... all of those things can be done (and have been done) by other means.  We can communicate via letter.  We can get information by going to the library or by reading newspapers and books.  We can be entertained by any number of methods that don't require electronics (games, live plays, live music, etc.).  We can walk instead of driving.  We can hand-split wood.  We can remove snow with a shovel (which, in itself, is a "technology"), or we can allow nature to remove the snow at her leisure, and just stay put until it's gone.  We can use composting toilets (i.e. a bucket with sawdust and a lid, which is emptied outside into a pile that will "cook" the pathogens out of the contents and make it usable in the garden).  We can light our homes using candles ... or just go to bed when the sun goes down (not a bad thing, actually).

We live luxurious lives these days, and I don't think most people understand that we are living like the royalty of yore.  Even the poorest of us in these rich nations have MORE than the aristocracy back before the Industrial Revolution.

Understanding that fact, and recognizing that it probably won't last, and that I should be ready to do without it, does not make me a luddite.  It makes me a realist ... and it also makes me incredibly thankful for the luxury my modern life affords me.

Gratitude, if we all practiced it, could be the greatest gift all of this technology gives us.       

1 comment:

  1. Great post! We certainly appreciate the concept of being a Luddite, that's hard to do. We use a variety of Technologies as well, but still do many things by hand. There's a certain satisfaction in that!