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How Modern Living Hides Real Life

Our contemporary lifestyles and technology hide the things that connect us to our planet and each other.

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Humans are gross.

And dirty.

The world is too.

We are biological creatures living in a biome with other biological creatures, but we seem to live in denial of all that. It seems that in our technological society, the goal is to become sanitized. Safe. Like good little robots in clean modernist cleanrooms wrapped in plastic.

But that’s not the way it was meant to be. We evolved to be connected. Interdependent.

We are meant to be connected to our planet and connected to each other. Connection is crucial to our survival as a species. We would never have gotten out of the forest alive without the connections to our world and to our communities.

We would have been eaten by saber-toothed tigers.

We would never have developed empathy or love, and would never have reproduced or developed families, never mind whole communities.

We would have never survived at all.

But our modern way of life disconnects us. It is meant to hide all the gunk of life under the guise of convenience. We live luxuriously disconnected from the dirt, the grime and all the gross things that are a part of what it means to be biological. We hide it away. We live disconnected with each other, feel lonely, and use our technology to hide that too.

We get up in the morning, pee and/or poop in a toilet and flush our crap away to a place we know-not-where nor care to think about. We flush using water flowing from plumbing hidden under the drywall. The waste flows away from us, and we use a chemical spray to mask the unpleasant smell. The waste is treated in a facility which is (hopefully) far enough away as to not catch a whiff of our communal waste.

We want hot water, so we turn the tap to take a shower. The water flows from a tank hidden away through hidden plumbing and is warmed by natural gas flowing through more hidden plumbing underground. The wastewater goes down the drain, hidden, and eventually joins the sewage flowing to the waste treatment plant.

We want coffee, so we so we turn on our coffeemaker which is plugged it in to an electrical outlet. The energy flows through hidden wires through transformers connected in a grid to a power plant which is miles away. The power is generated by coal, wind, geothermal, nuclear or all of those methods at the same time. We don’t even think much about it. The resources are hidden away from us, so we have no connection to them. These produce waste too, which winds up in the environment, but we never are never really confronted with it. We just hide it.

We get into our car to go to work. We open the garage door using electricity, and crank the engine which burns gasoline and produces hydrocarbons and other harmful gases. We leave for work from our suburban homes, far away from the offices where we work, without even seeing or acknowledging our neighbors who are also heading to work. We just crank the radio and hide in our cars as we commute.

We get bored at work, so we fire up our favorite social media or video. We disconnect from our reality for a while to watch funny cats do funny things, and hide it from our boss. (or try to). We feel lonely, so we chat with our family members or friends we haven’t seen in ages and we feel like they’re right here with us (even though they’re not). We hide our loneliness and disconnection, by masking it with our technology. We can just send an email or a text after all, and feel a little better even if we know it isn’t a real connection. And we can play a video game or but on a VR headset to distract ourselves from our disconnected reality when we have the time.

We never have to actually deal directly with our world or each other. We can just hide it all away.

That’s modern life.

No wonder the planet’s in trouble.

No wonder our society is in collapse.

It’s really difficult to be connected to our planet without acknowledging the very things that disgust our modern sensibilities. We need the crap. We need to understand where things come from and where they go.

We also need each other. We need to actually get together with the neighbors next door and visit over a coffee or tea. We need to really connect. Or, at least know their names.

We need to stop hiding.

When I think about my life now, which is “off-grid” in a tiny home on wheels, I have become much more aware of the impact my existence really has on the world.

For example, I need to make sure I have enough water so I must consider where it is coming from, where to store it, and how much I need to use on any given day. If I need to wash dishes, I need to decide how much water to use, and how much I need for other things, like staying hydrated. If I want hot water, I need to boil it.

When nature calls, I have to decide where my poop goes (in a bag thrown away, at a dump station or at a public restroom) or how to dispose of my own urine (using a portable urinal or poured out on the ground in some back alley). It is amazing how much of my daily routine is scheduled around my bowel movements.

I need to think about where my power will come from and how I can heat my home in cold weather. If I want heat or to cook, I need to know how much propane and diesel fuel I need and how much I have on hand. I also need to know how much charge my batteries have, and how many watts my refrigerator or heater uses. And I need to know where and when I need to recharge my batteries every day.

If I need something I don’t have access to, I must reach out and create a connection with another human. I need to ask for help. Not to become dependent, but to exercise my interdependence. I am confronted with needs where I am less competent or equipped to handle on my own. I rely much more on my community now for my everyday survival.

I have also become keenly aware of how every decision is connected to some kind of input/output process or system. Every little detail must be somehow accounted for in this life off-grid. Every resource has a source, and using my resources produces some kind of waste that I have to decide how to deal with.

My life is lived more spread-out. I can’t really hide away in my little trailer all day, but have to distribute my presence throughout my community for my needs. If I want a shower, I need to go to the gym. If I need to work, I need to find some wifi at the library or coffee-shop. My art studio is located in a different town from where my mailbox is. If I want to paint or pick up mail, I have to plan for it and consider whether I have the fuel to go that day.

None of my needs is hidden from me. Living with a tiny footprint, I have to make some kind of decision or action for each element. It’s right there in my face.

It can be exhausting, for sure, but I also think that living the way I had before, in constant disconnect, wasn’t healthy either. It was expensive and certainly was not sustainable. I feel a lot better now overall and much more healthy.

More connected.

Less hidden.

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