It is an irony that when we are all being exhorted to cut down on energy for the sake of the planet, more and more of us are using technology which consumes energy.
In the last thirty years or more, things hand-driven tools have given way to tools which are petrol-driven, electric, electronic or battery-driven in the following areas, among others: care of the land, washing, drying and ironing clothes, washing up, cleaning the house, food preparation, communication, telling the time, photography, getting around, cleaning our teeth and cleaning the house, drying the hair on our heads and disposing of the hair on our faces.
Some of this technology, like lawnmowers, goes back well over a hundred years. There was a time when lawns hardly existed except for the very wealthy, and then they would often be kept cut by sheep. The invention of the motor mower meant that everywhere lawns sprung up where before there might have been gravel. These motor mowers are now used on the smallest patches of grass where a hand mower would be just as efficient. More recently the strimmer has become almost universal where in the past scythes or long-handled shears would have been used. A friend of mine was told off for wasting his time wielding a scythe; he replied that it was no less wasteful than wielding a golf-club and a good deal more beneficial to land use. Accompanying strimmers are electric hedge cutters which have largely phased out the manual version. All these tools have the further disadvantage of adding greatly to noise levels.
Very few people in our society would dream of washing clothes in anything except a washing machine, though there are many in developing countries who have to survive without them. It is believed that except for six weeks before and after Christmas it is usually possible to hang clothes outside to dry rather than using a tumble dryer. Dishwashers, which we have inherited from the Continent, are a more recent acquisition, often coming with green credentials. Those of us who prefer to stay with the old ways claim that washing up by hand can be either an opportunity for meditation or conversation, and that the greenest of machines have to be manufactured using plenty of electricity, and also, like all machines have to be replaced from time to time. In the preparation of food there is still a balance between hand and machine, though here also machines are gaining ground. Examples of machines are bread makers, food processors, blenders and toasters. Another machine which has gained dominance is the vacuum cleaner and even carpet sweepers often now have batteries. We find that for most purposes a hand driven carpet sweeper is adequate.
Perhaps the biggest transformation is in communication. Everybody in the UK is being urged by the government to get into computers, sometimes with the argument that it is in fact greener than writing letters by hand on the grounds that less paper is used. However it has been estimated that 9% of the energy used in the USA comes from the use of computers. Sending emails, engaging in the social media and looking things up on the net all have a hidden energy deficit, but few of us would think now of doing without them. This deficit is even more striking in the use of phones, which not only use energy but which, it is believed by some, can be a serious hazard to health, especially the ones which are being charged up in our homes. We stick whenever possible to the land line phone with cord. Most of us have front door bells which are operated by electricity, some of us have garage doors which open in response to an electronic signal and others have gates which are opened electronically as are most car doors and windows.
When did any of us last wind up a watch, or wear one which was self-winding? In watches and clocks, batteries hold sway. These not only have to be made and use energy, but also have to be disposed of. Slightly more people still have clocks that are powered by hand-winding, but even they are a dying breed as indeed are traditional cameras. For thirty five years I had a camera which needed a battery only for the flash, but now such things belong to the age of the ark. There is no doubt that satnavs have been a boon to people driving on their own to unknown places, but not only have they made the traditional knowledge of the taxi driver irrelevant but many lorry and car drivers no longer know how to use a map. At the moment the government is increasing the cost of public transport except for planes in comparison with the cost of motoring so there is little chance that the amount of journeys done by cars will decrease, nor does there seem to be a significant increase in walking or biking except for leisure.
There are occasions when dentists may for good reason tell their patients to use an electric toothbrush, but for most of us a good minute or two with a traditional brush is just as effective. While for men the gadget which has been most universally abandoned but is the greenest of all is the cut-throat razor.
It is obviously impossible for us all to go back one hundred years, or even thirty, but there is no reason why we should not think about using some alternatives. One interesting example is that it is now possible to have radios that are powered by the sun or wound up by hand. Thirty years ago this was not possible. So it is not all bad news.
Comments on "Hands on"
My thoughts exactly, Poppy! That said, it is all too easy to get locked into technology. I have spent the past four years in a religious community located in a very rural location set in 42 acres of ground. Because of the nature of activity carried on there it was essential to keep in contact with each other - by a phone which was capable of email and texts. Until then a mobile phone was very basic and for emergencies only. Now it is an essential part of my life. Equally, I rely heavily on a computer. I am learning Russian and find it all too easy to look up the answer on Google Translate instead of working it out for myself. It is making me lazy. It also means that my handwriting has deteriorated!