The idea of self-sufficiency is one that doesn’t come around often enough. It seems to be a pattern that occurs every other generation, where young people decide that it’s time to start making things simpler, and this begins with learning some of the more elementary survival skills. Of course, there are always going to be subcultures and hidden communities that try to live off the grid for one reason or another, and sometimes these communities have absolutely opposing political viewpoints. On a more mainstream level, there are people who are exploring the idea of self-sufficiency in the way that Thoreau conceived of it.
The last time it happened on a more mass scale was over a generation ago, when the counter-cultures were at a peak level. The generation of the 60s came of age in the early 70s, and publications like The Whole Earth Catalog became popular and prevalent. Perhaps there really is no publication like that one, because it was one of the first and one of the last to try to encapsulate all the information on living a simple life in one place. One can find very useful articles on things like gardening, home improvement, and auto repair. The idea of learning these very basic skills has always appealed to people who take a more active role in their lives, and who are not afraid of hard work, even well after the workday is over.
For a generation who were born with computers already in the house, it’s a very different world. It’s also one where some of the most hopeful dreams of the last generation can be realized. Part of the idea behind the notion of self-sufficiency is that information is perhaps the most valuable resource. If people have the information on how to do things, then they are free. There is energy, momentum, and power in knowledge. And today’s world has more free flow of information than ever before.
Twenty years ago, a car breakdown would mean one of three things: one would have to wait by the side of the road for help, or one would have an education in auto repair already, or there would be a manual in the glovebox. Today, there are those who are knowledgeable about cars, and some much more so than others, but anyone with access to an internet connection can get a gmc online repair manual, and this is essential. A much higher percentage of the population now has access to information that was difficult to find before. The dream of Thoreau may still be far off, but there are aspects of the dream that are being born for the very first time right now.
Heather Boone is a journalist and blogger who covers software, the internet, and how technology affects education and society. Her work can be found on blogs like blog.clickpointsoftware.com.
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