Push-button People

We all want life to be easy. After nearly 70 years of unbridled progress and the concept of convenience being considered an American birthright, it’s hard for anyone to adjust to events that vary from the perfect script.

How does a culture step back from snack foods packaged in single-serving containers, microwave ovens, and phone apps that do everything except shield us from natural disasters? No one wants to voluntarily go back to a time when life was hard and involved effort to survive. But does our learned helplessness bode well for the future?

Central Maine Power has some great commercials. Seeing them after having just lost power during the recent ice storm makes me thankful and comforted to know that “when you lose power, there’s one thing you can count on; we’ll be ready to roll.”

That 30-second commercial, like all effective marketing, makes power restoration and repairing storm damage much glitzier and easier than it really is. We’re so used to flicking a switch and knowing the lights will go on. In fact, if you are like me, you caught yourself doing it hours after you were without power because it’s so deeply ingrained in our psyches.

Another well-known office supply retailer, one I’ll just call, the “office supply company who will not be uttered in this house” as Miss Mary works for a competitor, has a commercial featuring an “easy button.” Other local companies have adopted it in their ads for automobiles. This point is one that’s amazingly effective because we all want life to be easy. We are a push-button people.

Life is easier when you can just push a button.

Life is easier when you can just push a button.

I found myself wondering the other day about our generational adoption of ease and our need for quick solutions. Could this be traced back to the invention of push-button devices? The answer isn’t easily found by plugging it into Google, the equivalent of push-button information gathering.

Power outages are reminders about life decoupled from switches, push-buttons, and technology. It’s a life that requires physical labor, some inconvenience and discomfort, or more than if you had already prepared for a scenario of not having the convenience of electricity from the power grid.

On Christmas Eve day, we were out retailing, since we didn’t want to sit around in a house without electricity. We ran into an old acquaintance at a local bike shop. We chatted and mentioned power and when we asked about his electricity, as he lives on the other side of town from us, he mentioned being “off the grid” and being unaffected. He’s been generating his own power for 20 years now, so ice storms don’t really affect him other than preventing him from biking to work, which he does most of the year. He’s not some wild-eyed hippie either; he’s now married and has two teenagers. He looked like everyone else working at this iconic Maine retailer.

I need to be better prepared. I don’t have a generator, even though Mary and I talked about getting one several times after the 1998 ice storm. That was more than 15 years ago. Old ways die hard, and it’s harder to change and adapt the older you get.

We have decided to take the steps necessary to finally get one. It will require some electrical modifications, and a bit of thought about what our basic needs are. Having a source of power to run our well pump, keep our food cold and/or frozen in our refrigerator and freezer are the minimal requirements. Heat isn’t an issue, as we have a wood stove. We have a gas grill, so we can cook on that. Longer-term, it might be time to consider ways to heat our water involving renewable sources, like the sun.

Becoming a self-sustaining island isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably a wise thing to do, especially being reminded again that life isn’t always as easy as flipping a switch or pushing a button.

5 thoughts on “Push-button People

  1. I disagree that we all want life to be easy. I don’t. I find “easy” to be artificial. I want life to be authentic, lived through actions that require thought and process. Life experiences are missed at the flip of a switch.

    Deliberate living requires being more self sustaining. It requires more thought and action. It’s a good thing.

  2. You didn’t mention how your friend was off the grid. Solar has limited application in ice storms, so that leaves his options limited to harnessing running water (also a challenge in a Maine winter) or geothermal. I’d be interested to know how he does it.

  3. @Robin-I think most people want easy; you are obviously the exception. I liked your equating easy to being “artificial.” I do like having electricity and it’s one of the modern conveniences (now considered a necessity) that when it’s not available, really makes our current way of life, tough. Granted, some have adapted and adopted alternatives.

    @LP-I don’t know his set-up. I probably need to do more investigation. This person is an interesting cat; he’s always been someone marching to his own beat.

  4. I’ve thought about this post a lot since you put it up. Like Robin, I want life to be authentic. I enjoyed sawing off the bottom of my Christmas tree with a hand saw. When I lost my power, though, I realized how unprepared I was and I was angry with myself for getting “soft” in my preparedness.

    There’s a lot to think about in 2014, that’s for sure.

    P.S. I like your new blog theme.

    • @JAB

      I agree about the authenticity and that so much of modern (post-modern?) life is like a Hollywood set; it looks nice from the front, but walk around the back and there’s nothing; it’s just a prop.

      2014 is going to be my year to take steps towards becoming better prepared.

      Thanks for the theme props; Mark helped me make the JBE more mobile-friendly prior to the lights going out.

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