Gnomes against the machine
On the necessity of resisting technology
This post began as two separate pieces, one primarily photos and the other mainly text. I was stuck on both of them, but suddenly everything coalesced, as is often the case in writing, and I combined them into one. Frivolous, capricious, and do-nothing gnomes work well to illustrate anti-technology musings.
In pre-covid days we hosted parties here on the farm, and once I invited a young co-worker. He was new to the area, but navigated successfully to our location using GPS. The party dragged on into the wee hours, and eventually goodbyes were said. It was not until work the following Monday that I learned he had spent hours driving around the neighborhood, unable to find a way out or anyone in the early morning hours to ask the way back to town. Apparently on the way to the party he had just followed instructions and hadn't really paid much attention to the route. Then sometime during the evening his phone battery died, leaving him unable to find his way home.
Of course, a good laugh was had by all, though perhaps not immediately by the young man. At five miles from the town center and only about a mile from a major truck route, the farm is in no way remote or difficult to find. Had he followed written directions or a map to find the place, no doubt he would have retained memories of landmarks, and been able to find his way home. But that was not the case, and several groggy hours of his life were wasted. In retrospect there are two things I'm pretty sure of: 1)We are too dependent on technology, and 2) This mishap didn't cause the party-goer to forsake GPS or any other conveniences.
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Once adopted and integrated into our habits, getting rid of a device or appliance is difficult. When technology fails us we're more likely to work on preventing future failures than to reject the technology itself, and in many cases this is the best avenue available. If his car had broken down on the way to the party, I wouldn't be writing about how he should look into riding a bicycle or bringing a horse and buggy next time. Most of us have to accept a minimum level of technology in our lives to be able to work, eat, and have a social life, and possessions such as a car and a cell phone, in a time and place where they are nearly ubiquitous, are almost obligatory.
Neverless, I feel the need to rebel against excess technology when it's superfluous and expensive, and more importantly so I'm not dependent on it when suddenly it's no longer accessible. Such rebellion may appear privileged at times, or hypocritical. You can give up your car if you can afford that downtown apartment within convenient walking distance to everything. I can reduce reliance on a fickle supply of electricity and natural gas to keep me warm and cook my food because I have money and space for that high dollar European wood-burning cookstove. You can access the internet from your laptop for the purpose of criticizing those who fly frequently. I might shun GPS, but not balk at bringing up a digital map on my cell phone. What about “Paddle Against Petro” for which activists showed up in kayaks, a mode of recreation and transportation wholly compsed of petrochemical products?
It's not my intent to call out hypocrisy— quite the opposite. I'm pointing out the near impossibility of functioning outside the realm of the technological world that we find ourselves in. I think it's despicable to criticize anti-fossil fuel activists for owning cars. How else would they get around in the USA where public transportation outside of city centers is almost nonexistent?
It's important and meaningful to resist technology, and not merely when it's expensive, doesn't make our lives easier, or as part of disaster prep. These instances are good starting points, and the gateway drug for further resistance. They ideally lead to the realization that fundamentally it's not only the technology itself that is being resisted, but the dominant theoretical structure of our world, whatcalls “the Machine.” He explains:
It is not simply the sum total of various individual technologies we have cleverly managed to rustle up - cars, laptops, robot mowers and the rest. In fact, such 'technics', as [Lewis] Mumford calls them, are the product of the Machine, not its essence. The Machine is, rather, a tendency within us, made concrete by power and circumstance, which coalesces in a huge agglomeration of power, control and ambition. And it is not a new development. Indeed, it can be traced back much further than we might imagine, to the dawn of civilisation itself…
To me, the industrial food system is the exemplar of the Machine, with the field as the factory floor, and the processing and distribution systems mechanized and minutely controlled. Growing part of what you eat, or sourcing food locally, or just cutting out non-essential junk, bypasses this system and constitutes resistance. Healing a bit of land by letting part of your yard go wild or by guerrilla gardening are further steps you can take. I'm not championing small, collective acts in the belief that they will bring about the demise of the system, or indeed influence it in any way, but I feel that they are crucial nonetheless. Perhaps we can preserve something important —knowledge of doing things by hand, a connection to wildness, or just some seeds that can regrow when the end of the Machine comes, as it inevitably will.