Follow by Email


Monday, October 8, 2012

Technology buffet

Picture three generations of the Sixbears clan sitting around the campfire on a cool October night. The mode of dress has changed, but gathering around the campfire is older than civilization.

Then my lovely wife brings out her laptop computer and we video Skype with my oldest daughter and her family in Massachusetts. Okay, that’s something new. Not long ago that would have been Science Fiction.

We pick and choose our technology: woodstoves and solar electric panels. 100 year old hand tools and lithium battery powered tools. Canoes and a sailboat, but made out of modern plastics.
On my key chain I keep a metal match (Ferrocerium ) for starting fires. People who smoke would just carry a lighter or matches, but I don’t smoke. I like the metal match because it’s simple -scrape a piece of steel along it and 3000 degree sparks fly off it. There’s not much there to malfunction. It can even work when wet, which is very handy for a survival item.

It can start things like Coleman fuel stoves, propane stoves and lanterns, and charcoal lighter fluid. It’s mostly used for my camp stove and lantern. However, I can start a campfire with it. For a campfire I put together a little tinder bundle to catch the sparks. Using a tinder bundle is good practice for more primitive fire starting methods like flint and steel, or a bow drill. Being able to coax the tiniest spark into open flame is a good primitive skill to have.

A GPS is nice, but I still use a compass, maps, charts, stars, and the sun to navigate. I would feel silly if something as stupid as a dead battery was the reason I was lost. Still, when sailing on a dark night in the fog, heading to a fixed GPS waypoint is a comfort. It’s a useful tool, sometimes the best for the job -but not the only tool.

I’ve semiautomatic rifles -plus bows and even a Medieval style crossbow. Once again, I have a variety of technologies to choose from. Even my bows range from simple recurve bows with wooden arrows, to a more modern wheel bow with metal alloy arrows.

The human race has thousands of years of technological development at our disposal. We don’t have to always use the most recent technology. It might be better, but it might not. There may be costs associated with a more modern technology that we don’t want to pay. Sometimes the new stuff fails. A person with a knowledge of earlier ways of doing things has backup plans. We can mix and match good new stuff with good old stuff. (classic boat lines done in more durable modern materials.) Don’t be blinded by the glitter of the new nor so tied to tradition that better tools are ignored.

It’s an interesting time we live in -part caveman and part spaceman.



  1. Very nice and completely true. It is nice to have all these conveniences and nothing wrong with using them but it is nice to have something else to back them up.

  2. One has to wonder what would happen if all the computers in the world went down at the same time.

  3. A favorite science fiction novel (The Gameplayers of Zan) has a culture intentionally like this....they live in almost unheated homes, but build spaceships. They intentionally choose which tools and technology to use based on whether it is something that creates real "progress" instead of merely "change"....a concept I value highly.

    1. It's a fine concept. Too bad it's usually in Science Fiction and not the real world. However, if we can think it, we can do it.

  4. We live in a very unique time, kind of a bridge generation.
    When we were born there were no microwave ovens, computers or any of the modern electronic devices that proliferate our society now.
    Our parents and Grand parents lived through the Great Depression and used and reused everything available including very old technology to perform physical work.

    The newer generations have no clue how to do anything without electricity anymore.
    Turn off the power and modern society comes to a screeching halt.

    I personally love antique tools,always have. The ones who came before figured out a great many labor saving devices that do not use electricity and that ingenuity has gone the way of the buggy whip for 90% of the population.

    Their loss.

    My next side project is to build an old fashioned Post vice from scratch that blacksmiths and wheelwrights used to use.
    You can't beat 'em for usefulness.

    1. You are right about being a bridge generation. I learned to type on a manual typewriter. In a class of 40, there were only 2 guys.

      I love my post vise. Use it all the time.

      Considering how shakey the grid is, this generation might have to learn quickly about non-electric tools and devices, and life in general.

    2. Indeed, we shall see those computers go down when the grid fails. I repeat when.

    3. It will fail. It does fail. Could be minutes, but could turn into a new dark age.

  5. as the unknown future looms closer, most be certain that those whom can adapt or ajust be faring better that those whom cannot...

    intterresting times ahead....


    1. No one will be really completely ready, but having a big tool box to pull from will certainly help.