Living off the grid

I’ve got to tip my hat to Thomas Edison. Home and commercial delivery of electric power, which he envisioned and pioneered, has to be one of the greatest inventions of all time, as evidenced by the ability of power failures to bring our lives to a screeching halt. We are powerless without power.

Witness the power outage (again) in Uncasville yesterday morning. I had just gotten up, and thankfully it was a day off as my alarm clock would not have worked. I could not make coffee. I could not get on the internet, which I usually do first thing, which means no reading the paper or checking the mail. OK, I’m flexible – I’ll take a shower. I can at least do that – until the hot water runs out anyway (electric water heater). Luckily, I didn’t need to dry my hair. If I could have, I wouldn’t have been able to see anyway as the mirrors were all steamed up since I couldn’t turn on the bath fan.

I headed over to McDonald’s for a coffee. They were closed. Seems they lost power, too. Can’t take orders. Can’t cook or keep the food or coffee hot or operate the registers or take my debit card. Powerless. Even the traffic lights weren’t working.

Back home. What to do? Can’t watch TV. Can’t listen to music. I could read my latest tomes, at least until the battery on my electronic book reader ran out. Aside from reading (yes, I do have physical books, and thankfully it was light enough in the house to read), there wasn’t much to do. Routine chores are power-dependent (vacuum cleaner, washing machine). There’s always window-cleaning. Ha! I wasn’t that bored.

I could, and did, walk the dog. By the time I got back, power was restored. But the whole experience reminded me how dependent we are on power, and how crippled modern society is without it. Could we ever adapt to life without electricity? I suspect it would be a pretty ugly transition, but maybe the end result wouldn’t be so bad.

Perhaps electricity, and the many modern conveniences it brings, is responsible for much of the evils of modern life – stress, alienation, disease. It has certainly added to the hustle and bustle of life. Everything is fast-paced (think New York City), and fast brings stress. Multi-tasking is commonplace, and that brings stress, too.

We go places in our automobiles instead of walking, use elevators instead of stairs and have tools to make everything easier and less dependent on physical labor. When we lift a finger, it is often not much harder than just that.

With power, meals are often instant rather than joyfully prepared (microwaves, frozen food, fast food). Business can be transacted without human contact (banking, shopping). You don’t have to leave the house to fetch the paper, watch a ballgame, or hear a symphony. We can experience much of life from our own cocoons, reducing the need for community. It’s like living vicariously.

As much as I love my electronic gadgets and conveniences, sometimes I think it wouldn’t have been so bad to have lived before them. Seems like maybe life would be simpler, and thereby more rewarding.

Edison. Savior or devil?