Monday, January 3, 2011

the virtue of low-tech

I was saying to Tony the other day that my reason for liking cloth diapers isn't primarily because they are better for the environment, or better for my baby's skin, though both of those things are true. Thinking about it, I realized that what I like is not being stuck in a cycle of commercial dependence. There must be non-commercial ways to deal with the household needs we have which we're used to relying on disposable products for. It's an elaborate money-making scam I think. I like breaking out of that cycle. I like our household being less dependent. The same goes with the Diva cup. It wasn't really the bleach in tampons that annoyed me, or occasional dryness, though those both were annoying, but the cycle. I remove makeup with little pink cloths I have. Why did I ever use disposable cotton? Most messes can be cleaned with cloths. I use paper towels for things like cat vomit but that's about it. And actually I recently organized our linen closet and now have a place for cloths used for gross, messy things so I should be able to stick with those. As I've been realizing these things over the past two years or so, I've started to feel really cheated. These disposable alternatives are all new. Yet people feel they "need" them. This advertising monster we live with creates this sense of need that really shouldn't be there (so glad we don't have TV...).
But there's another strand to the story. I realized I also prefer things to be low-tech. When in doubt, go with the low-tech option. Butter and margarine are similar in taste and have different but comparable health profiles (butter has more fat, margarine has more chemicals, right?), but I'll opt for butter each and every time because it's simple. It's low-tech. I prefer a manual food processor for some jobs and a knife and board for others even though it takes more time than electric. I recently read another Christmas book I bought, Better Off, and it was incredible, even better than I'd anticipated (if anybody wants to borrow it let me know). I'd seen my preference as sort of aesthetic/intuitive, but I found myself laughing and agreeing with his point that not only do motorized machines tend to be uglier in some way (lack of human skill and resourcefulness, they're normally noisy, etc.), but the accumulated costs of fuel, maintenance, and time detract even further from their value. Bread machines are a constant thorn in my side. It just makes me sad to learn that somebody uses a bread machine. It's so satisfying to make bread. And the kicker is that it's not hard at all. I think that because the machines do exist, people get this idea that it must be really hard to do, therefore they need a machine. Not so! You miss out so much on developing your skill and interior database about the science of baking when you don't do it by hand. Learning to knead and recognize by feel when it's ready, and by smell and sight when it's done baking, that's so satisfying and invaluable.
I also recently read a book, sort of a biography of the author's two grandmothers, in which the author describes one of them as using a manual washing machine and wringing them out with that little squeezer do-hickey (Brende, the author of the above, says he and his wife don't recommend the wringer as it tends to break buttons). Reading it, I thought, 'Awesome! I gotta get me one of these!' And then, immediately, 'I must be crazy, right? Everybody would laugh at me!'. Ah well. So that is one of my life ambitions now, to own and operate a manual washing machine. Brende, in Better Off, also describes a community member converting his wife's sewing machine into a manual. I don't actually understand how that's possible, but I want that too. And a house with a lot of light. And either a big garden or a small farm. If a farm then maybe a horse to get around. And a cow. And some chickens. Fruit trees. I'll work physically all day and eat like a horse. My dream come true.
One problem with trying to live a lower-tech farmy kind of life is so that so much depends on your community. Either it springs up naturally in small villages or you have to make it happen. And from what I've seen, a lot of the experimental, intentionally low-tech, face-to-face communities that people try to start tend to fail. I have a hunch it has to do with the low commitment members might have to each other. You have a commitment to an ideal, but you don't have the farming know-how and you don't even really care for the people as such. To me, friends are really important. I feel like if some day we do go the small-farm route I'd try to talk friends into moving not far away. Though I think I'd do that anyway, even if we live in a non-farming area. Or move close to friends. You need to be surrounded with families where at least one adult is a homemaker or works at home or something. You need to be able to drop by and gripe about the weather, or do chores together, or barter extra produce you have. I think that's more important to me than a cow. But I'd still like a cow.