The Simple Life Is Good For The Soul

I am not a hater of technology – far from it. I’m two years into a Computer Science degree, and I think technology has tremendous power to make positive change. Having said that, there are times when it’s good to get away.

A month ago, I was spending virtually all day chained to my laptop, trying to churn out fiction to send to journals. I wasn’t making any progress, but I felt guilty about doing anything that was supposedly less ‘productive’. In reality, all I was doing was wasting time on the Internet. Despite eating healthily and exercising, I felt drained and sometimes unhappy. It was obvious that something had to give.

Change happened, in the form of a two-week volunteering stint at an off-grid vegan permaculture farm deep in the Welsh countryside. There was nowhere to charge or plug in laptops, and if we wanted to use the Internet we had to go to the pub in the village. There was also no hot water (unless we boiled it ourselves), no flush toilets (compost all the way), no fridge or freezer, no phone signal and none of the labour-saving devices we in the West are so accustomed to. Nobody lived in the house, which was essentially used as a shed – we volunteers slept in old touring caravans.

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The farm track

I instantly fell in love. We were outside for most of the day and I felt so clear-headed. Despite not eating the healthiest diet (far too many peanut butter and jam sandwiches!), I had far more energy than usual. Back home, chores were an annoying distraction that took away valuable work time. But here, chores were the work. That made it much easier to live in the moment – once the work was done, there was no need to think about it any more. There was no stress and no money worries, especially as the farm is aiming to be completely moneyless. The only thing that made it harder was missing my boyfriend. I didn’t really miss modern conveniences at all.

I experienced many moments of pure contentedness, sometimes in situations where I wouldn’t have expected it – tramping through a field in waterproofs in the pouring rain, shovelling earth into a wheelbarrow, sitting round a campfire listening to the stream, painting signs in the workshop.

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When we went to the pub to use the WiFi, I realised I didn’t really want to. I dreaded opening my email to find 60+ new messages, and had no desire to scroll down my Facebook news feed.

There were few mirrors on the farm, and my friends and I noticed that our self-esteem improved as a result – we rarely thought or worried about our appearance. But as soon as we looked at our reflections again, the negative thoughts started to creep back in. It’s amazing that something as innocuous as a mirror can so drastically affect the way we view ourselves.

I stopped washing my hair, just because it wasn’t convenient to do so. To my surprise, it became softer, glossier and even curlier. I don’t use shampoo or conditioner, so I guess the hot water had been damaging it. When I got home, I caved in and washed it, but it then became limp and greasy. I’ve now resolved to wash it as little as possible.

After leaving the farm, I worried that I might slip into the same rut I was previously in, but took measures to prevent that from happening. I unsubscribed from the majority of the mailing lists I was on, and now receive only a few emails a day. I use Facebook only to keep in touch and make plans, not as a source of entertainment. If I find myself sitting in front of the computer too long, I get up and do some chores or some baking. Now the kitchen is clean and there’s always something nice for dessert! I’m also making more effort to get outside. My boyfriend and I have been on several very long walks into the surrounding countryside, and it feels great to explore our area and get lots of exercise. I feel that I’ve found a much better balance in life and am far happier as a result. It’s nice to be home, but I’m so glad I got away for a while.

Click here to read my previous post about the farm, where I discuss the way it operates and whether it’s a sustainable model for the future. And check out this video made by my lovely friend Aisha, who also came to the farm. You can see me hovering awkwardly in the background of some of the shots!

Be sure to leave a comment if you have any thoughts. Do you think it’s healthy to get away from modern comforts from time to time? Have you had any similar experiences? I’d love to hear from you!

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12 thoughts on “The Simple Life Is Good For The Soul

    1. There was a news story recently about some technology which enabled someone with paralysis to move their limbs again, for example. And although the Internet has its downsides, in my opinion it’s overall been a force for good, allowing people to meet and keep in touch with friends they otherwise may never have met, as well as share information and campaign for change. The growth of the vegan movement can largely be attributed to the Internet. There’s also technology being developed which could replace animal testing, definitely a positive as far as I’m concerned. Those are just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head, but there are plenty more.

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      1. Yes, I have thought about that. It’s undeniable that some problems such as heart disease are lifestyle-related. However, disabilities such as paralysis can be the result of a fall or a genetic condition. As another example, my boyfriend suffered a cerebral haemorrhage at birth and would never have survived if not for technology. In fact, there are very many mothers and babies who would have died in childbirth a century ago. To state that technology cannot do any good is clearly untrue.

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      2. You are looking at this ‘life-saving’ technology as if it existed in a vacuum. I encourage you to explore the true cost of such technology. Try to think about all the steps that are necessary for such machines to exist in the first place. They don’t materialize out of thin air. There is an entire ‘system’ that must be in place for these machines to be available to save your partner’s life. And there is a cost even beyond that of human suffering and environmental degradation, which is alienation. It is impossible for these kinds of machines to be made without division of labour, mass society and globalization.

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      3. In our current system, which is far from ideal, that may be true. But I believe we’ll find more sustainable ways of making technology, using materials which aren’t destructive to the environment and don’t cause human suffering. We as humans must have a shift in consciousness if we’re to survive, which will naturally lead to the formation of more sustainable systems. Forsaking all technology won’t solve our problems – we have to take what works from our society and leave behind what doesn’t. I’m wholly in favour of using simpler technology where possible – in a previous blog post I mentioned a manual washing machine, essentially a spherical pot with a handle which you fill with boiling water and spin by hand. This saves considerable work, and could easily be made without the costs you’ve mentioned. To say technology can never be used for good is to treat an extremely complex issue as if it were black and white.

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      4. 1. Why do you believe that “we’ll find more sustainable ways of making technology”? In other words, what leads you to believe that?

        2. Using this spherical pot as an example – how will it be made, and from what, and by whom?

        3. I didn’t say “technology can never be used for good” – that is you putting words in my mouth! But since you mention good, perhaps you can tell me what you mean by this? Some ways of looking at it could mean that a positive result can be seen in isolation – for example the life-saving machine you mentioned. But ALL technology, no matter how positive some of the results that are generated can be, also generate negative results, usually elsewhere and unseen by the end user.

        You might wonder why I bring this to your attention…the answer to that is that some of your posts show a leaning in one direction, but your reluctance to fully grapple with the root causes, I think is getting in your way.

        If my efforts are unwanted I won’t trouble you anymore.

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      5. This will be my last reply, as I’m short on time and feel that we fundamentally disagree. Technology has been used for centuries in one way or another, for example the sophisticated machines made by ancient cultures which helped them understand astronomy. These were made long before the advent of globalisation. It’s very likely that they were made by the same people who used them, out of materials sourced locally. With the example of the washing machine, it could be made out of locally sourced clay or glass by a tradesperson who the user knows personally. This would give the tradesperson a way of making a living, and provide a useful piece of equipment to the end user, causing minimal harm or damage. This is just one idea.

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      6. OK. I appreciate your reluctance to interact with someone who viewpoint is drastically different. Maybe some day you will come to see how those ancient cultures that developed astronomical tools already had advanced hierarchies and all manner of problems.

        If you haven’t already, might I suggest to you: ‘Twilight of the Machines’, by John Zerzan?

        You also mention trade, which is a very, very recent phenomenon. And you know, people who are free enough to already have the food to eat and the land to live off, do NOT trade. In fact, the narrative we’ve been taught, that goes: Barter > Money > Debt – is exactly backwards. In other words, people don’t begin to form formal economies until after they’ve become indebted by violence, and they don’t use barter until after currencies have collapsed. The best book on this subject is ‘Debt’ by David Graeber.

        Best wishes.

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