We live on the grid, but in ways that emphasize self-sufficiency. Or so I have fancied. We grow a lot of food, have solar panels to supply most of our power needs, have a rain catchment system to gather water to for the gardens. We can mend and fix and make from scratch. And for a few years, I was an EMT, so I have at least a passing familiarity with what to do in a medical emergency. All of which made me kind of cocky about my ability to live lightly, to take care of myself.
BUT BUT BUT I have come to doubt whether I really can do this. Have, moreover, come to wonder how possible it is to be SELF-sufficient in contemporary culture. For sure, you can live low and light, but I am not sure you can be of the culture–engaged in it broadly–and also be self-sufficient. At least I can’t.
And rather than simply lapse into some kind of self-recrimination, this realization leads me to wonder about the notion of self-sufficiency now. As I mentioned in a post a while back about Common Ground Fair, I don’t think of self-sufficiency as literally making homespun and such. I think about it as having the skills to live well in the world. And a surprising number of those skills now are about being digitally connected to others.
Here’s what I am stumbling toward. We lost power for nearly a week after the snow storm on November 2nd. And while it wasn’t great not to have it, the only thing we really emphatically, impatiently, frustratingly missed was the internet. Candles and kerosene lamps gave us adequate, if not great, light. The woodstove served us well. We had plenty of food and a generator that ensured that we didn’t lose what was in the big freezer. But without the internet, we couldn’t do our jobs. And we missed having e-mail. And the New York Times on-line. And the ability to google; it’s grown hard for me to write without being able to look up some little something for the next sentence.
And we are not even particularly connected. Facebook-less, Twitter-novices, we don’t use the tools that most of our peers rely on.
Is self-sufficiency fundamentally different in its contours in a hyper-connected world? Is it even possible? And if it is, what does it look like now?