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Going Off-grid, In Town

initrdinitrd wrote 04/29/2021 at 22:41 • 3 min read • Like

A scene in Barton Fink has a Hollywood script-writer on payroll but without work because the studio head was so disappointed with his wrestling screenplay.


The studio head says, "I want you in town Fink, but out of my sight."  Such are the absurdities of contractual obligations. 
This isn't easily relatable to going off grid, except for one tangential aspect- when one is off-grid, they are not part of the "social network" that is the internet- but there are many other networks, as the pre-Internet screenwriting era of the 1940s. 

I've had a power outage once for 5 days, due to a snow storm causing many trees branches to buckle under the weight of a flash precipitation event and causing downed power lines. The event was otherwise unremarkable, except for the realization of how much I didn't really need electricity. I happened to be fortunate to have a fully charged Nokia phone at the time, which had a superior battery life that lasted me throughout the entire outage, mainly due to powering it off and only checking messages every several hours. That said, any modern phone would not last as long, because that Nokia was from the pre-smartphone era. That era was markedly different in what was considered high-tech. Smartphones are ubiquitous today, but appear to define high-tech merely out of convenience, rather than any particular advantage that a 6" AMOLED has over a more versatile notebook. 

In 5 days I was able to study for a mid-term exam and score much higher than my previous exams in a semester of graduate school. Involuntary offline living is a blessing in disguise for those who are unable to turn off or tune out. That said, environmental cues and peer pressure has a large effect on the influence of social networking. It is very possible that rural areas are more able to turn off the phone and computer since the external stimuli on a farm or arid desert are far and few between. Compared to a Bladerunner city where all matter is cybernetic, finding a balance in technology may require re-evaluating one's entire definition of home. 

That power outage was many years ago, but recently I decided to try a mini-experiment for only 3 days. You could call this going off-grid, in town. I decided that before I moved to my new condo, that I would not turn on the electricity until I absolutely needed to. I could have skipped the wait before I signed up for electricity service, but I had some solar panels and non-perishable foods, thus I was not in urgent need of refrigeration. I also had a rechargeable battery bank so I was able to recharge my phone and make calls, and receive internet. Laundry was also a non issue, since I had enough clean clothes. I have an LED lantern with lithium battery, so midnight bathroom trips were not difficult, and even somewhat like an exploration.

What I learned from having no electricity for 3 days is, I only really use a tiny fraction of it for really essential things. I have long stopped using a full-size refrigerator more than 4 years ago, because I have learned to use a mini-fridge with much less wasted food. But even if I didn't need to freeze or keep fresh produce, I would still be able to enjoy fresh foods if I chose to shop more often. I merely use a fridge to save on trips to the store, but only need to visit the grocery every 2 weeks on average. 

The same applies for computers- A solar panel could recharge a very light laptop if only I used it for much of my productivity, but since I have 50 or 100amp service, I can power several computers and several monitors. 

I also enjoy making coffee and using an electric oven, which wouldn't be possible without electricity.

One thing I also learned to make without electricity is oatmeal- I would pour cold water into a cereal bowl, and a half cup of oatmeal would soak overnight. By morning the oatmeal was as ready as the usual 90-150 second microwaved meal. 

I realize that living off-grid isn't as appetizing or appealing to everyone. And it may not really seem like a practical thing either. But like Barton Fink, having no electricity and only hearing the noises next door provides a temporary refuge from the obligations of socializing, whether it is intentional or not. Being trapped in a hotel  room on the wrong side of town unlocks Fink's writer's block. That doesn't change the fact that with Hotel California, you can check in anytime, but you can never leave:

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