Posted on February 22, 2016 @ 07:15:00 AM by Paul Meagher
What does it mean to be "Off The Grid"?
That is the question that Phillip Vannini and Johnathan Taggart explore in their book Off the Grid: Re-assembling Domestic Life (2015).
The book arose from a research grant to study the lives of 200 off-gridders located in all the different provinces of Canada. Because so many different off-gridders were interviewed at different times of year, in different climates, and with different motivations, it paints a rich and diverse portrait of what life is like off grid.
This is not a book you would pick up to learn how to physically survive off grid. It is a book you would want to pick up if you wanted to understand the motivations and lifeworld of those who live off grid. Why would we want to learn about off-gridders?
Anthopologists study other cultures both for the sake of understanding those cultures and, using comparative methods, to help us to understand own culture better. Most of us take for granted all the grids we are connected to - the power grid, a natural gas grid, a sewage grid, a water grid, a communications grid, and a transportation grid are the most common grids we are connected to. Going off grid technically means removing yourself from the power grid or a natural gas grid, but many off-gridders also take care of their own sewage and water. They may also be removed from main roads and cut off from one or more types of communications (TV being a common media form they abandon). Many also grow some of their own food and disconnect to some extent from the food grid as well.
Being off grid means you have to take care of more of the basic functions of living than most of us do. It means having fewer of the conveniences and comforts we often take for granted. Why would someone want to do this?
A common reason is simply that was too costly to hook up power to the remote location where they want to live. Some want to reduce the cost of living, some do it for environmental reasons, some want to be more connected with the rhythms and resources of nature. Some net-zero off-gridders disconnect from the power grid in urban settings and speak to the advantages of being able to access necessities on a bicycle or by walking, rather than hopping in a car to access on-grid services.
The book attempts to get into the minds and environment of off-gridders using a wide array of literary sources. Many of the case-studies of off-gridders are briefer than I would have liked, but given the volume of interviewees they want to to discuss this is understandable. The case-studies are used to high-light particular aspects of off-grid life that the authors want to focus a longer critical discussion of. They assembled a vast array of interesting theories and ideas in an effort to understand the lifeworld of off-gridders. Sometimes the critical theory seems to be used as a substitute for any real insight; other times it helps to shine a revealing light on what might be unique about such lifestyles and how they differ from what we find normal.
The book is accompanied by a film that you can rent from the Off the Grid website. The film is currently being shown and discussed in many communities around the world. You can also listen to segments of their interviews at their Innovative Enthographies
I'm recommending that you watch the film, listen to an interview, or read the book as a way to understand our own culture by comparison to a culture that chooses not to take many of our modern conveniences and comforts for granted. Maybe you have some romantic notions of living off grid. These resources will give your more realistic notions of what off grid living is like in its many and varied forms.
I'll conclude by suggesting that the Living Off Grid project could also be used as a case study for modern independent film making. Take a subject that most people have an interest in, get some funding to explore the topic in the field and through research, create some buzz along the way by discussing your project as fieldwork and research is progressing, create a dynamic website where people can order your film and track how the project is evolving, and offer up multimedia experiences to your audience (e.g., book, film, audio). The book also offers some insights into the trials and tribulations they experienced as they did their fieldwork which might be useful and amusing for independent film makers as well.