New ways, old ways

If I invite you to picture a life where walking is transport, there’s no refrigeration in homes, food is cooked from scratch, washing is done by hand, you’ll probably be well on the way to picturing something Victorian, or earlier. Something tough, full of drudgery and misery. I want to suggest that we can go back to these lighter ways of living without being miserable, because of other technological advances.

We tend, as a culture, to focus on large, expensive pieces of technology. The car. The television, the fridge freezer, the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and so forth. Modern life is defined by these ‘labour saving’ objects. They cost us a lot to run in terms of energy, and the resources it takes to make them, and we do a lot of paid work to earn the money to afford them, so the degree of ‘labour saving’ for the ordinary worker is open to question.

There are other technologies. Modern changes to clothing are vast – manmade fibres that wash and dry easily, that are genuinely waterproof. Walking boots. Walking for transport when you have the modern gear is a world away from some poor sod tramping through the rain in a Thomas Hardy novel. And washing and drying these things by hand, with hot running water, modern cleaning products (even the green ones) and a spin drier is a world away from the copper and the mangle.

Across all areas of human activity there are multiple technological developments at play. We’ve prioritised some, without really looking about what others can give us. Thanks to the rise of the car, we’ve never given cycling a proper go, or properly looked at motorcycles as an alternative. Walking and horse powered transport are much easier when you have surfaced roads – we can have surfaces without cars, and they tend to last longer.

Part of the problem is that our development of technology is driven by the desire to make profits. If we were doing this with the aim of getting the best quality of life in the most sustainable way, the whole history of the 19th and 20th centuries would look radically different. We aren’t labour saving, we’re moving the goalposts. Maybe you don’t have to spend hours at the sink scrubbing clothes. Instead you have to spend hours frustrated in traffic queues, or working a boring job, or a tiring or stressful one, to be spared the drudgery of cooking your own meals.

The good news is there’s a lot to be gained from exploring the lower profile, less expensive technology, and the opportunities it creates to live lightly, need less money, and work less.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “New ways, old ways

  • Kaylee

    Sadly, the new religion worshipping the acquisition of money means that services, products, etc that do not create profit are either downplayed or ignored. Medicine is a great example. The various doctors’ guilds prevent enough doctors from being trained, the pharmaceutical companies spend more money advertising and preventing effective medicines from reaching the market in sufficient numbers, and insurance companies add a layer of bureaucracy to access to proper health care. None of this system is for helping people attain greater health, nor does it treat long term problems well. It is all about the money to be gained, often from those who can’t really afford it.

    • Nimue Brown

      and because preventative medicine doesn’t make as much money for anyone, the focus is on curing you once sick, not looking after you so you don’t get sick – it’s a good example of everything that is wrong with capitalism. Thank you.

    • Karen T

      Yes – so true. I was just offered a cure for arthritis in my knee that would have cost up to $2000. I went to my naturopath instead, and the pain is all but gone thanks to a couple of dietary changes and a mineral supplement, and a bill of less than $200.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Some really good points you have made there. Faster, higher, stronger not always necessarily better. Thanks for those reflections. I will carry this very muse-worthy reflection around with me for quite a while I think.

  • Karen T

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