Electricity A physical phenomenon associated with stationary or moving electrons and protons
Energy made available by the flow of electric charge through a conductor
The invisible power behind our happiness
What a wonderful creation. What a marvellous invention. The things that have been made possible through its almost worldwide availability, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We live in a world run by electricity – without it, our daily lives would change immeasurably.
Before you say “Yes, but that’s not going to happen,” let’s step back in time for a moment shall we? Back to a time when electricity was not even a word, and let’s consider the humans that lived on the earth. Who were these people? What were their lives like? What did they eat? What did they do for work or for fun? Stop for a minute, and allow yourself to imagine their lives. Were they easy or hard? And actually, while we’re sitting around pondering these questions, do you know how long ago I am talking about? A thousand years? Ten thousand years?
Well, the first power station opened in 1881, that is only 126 years ago; and reliable supply to all homes and businesses (in the developed world) has only really happened after the second world war, which only finished 62 years ago. So in light of the fact that the earth we and all the other creatures inhabit has been around for several billion years, I think it’s fair to say that electricity is pretty new! Yet we’re addicted to it already. Completely addicted. We couldn’t live without it now. It is who we are. It is who we aspire to be. It is what we want in life. It’s our happiness. It has overtaken our life.
We are controlled by it. Our very existence in the modern world depends on it… Let me explain.
This topic is not about the environment; it’s not about cutting back on the use of resources; it’s not about saving the planet from global warming; it’s about finding out who you and I are when the lights go out and the power stations come to a standstill. It’s about discovery; it’s about unlocking our conditioned minds to uncover our natural mind.
This is a vital topic, and we need to go into it carefully, so if you’re ready, let’s start this journey together right now.
I sit in a library now as I write this. I am writing on my laptop. The room has a nice desk, two chairs, some wood panelling, and a wooden door with glass and a metal handle. The room is warm and, although small and basic, is comfortable. There is a power socket for my laptop. Next to me is my mobile phone, a pen, and some scrap paper. My winter jacket hangs over the chair and my rucksack is on the floor. I have a bottle of sparkling water I bought from a shop. The library itself is well lit and, although small, has an ample supply of books. I arrived here by car. This morning, I had a warm shower, made some porridge, and had a cup of tea, whilst checking my emails.
I want to stop right there for a moment. What did you notice in that list above? Anything? Seems like a normal list of my “stuff” and my surroundings, but let’s break it down shall we? My laptop was made in a factory somewhere. The factory used electricity to make the components that go into my laptop. It is plugged into a socket that magically keeps the laptop on. The desk, chairs, and wood panelling in the library are made by a company somewhere using power tools that require electricity to cut the wood, which were themselves made using electricity. The door with it’s metal handle, and glass were all cut and made by some company somewhere using electricity. The lighting is generated by the power station, but the light bulbs, and the light fittings, and the cables were all made by some company somewhere using electricity to make them. My mobile phone was made using electricity. The scrap paper was cut in a factory using electricity. The pen was made using electricity. My winter jacket and my bottle of water were both made using electricity. The books in the library were printed using electricity, and the paper cut using electricity. My car does not run on electricity it runs on petrol, but we won’t get into the topic of oil here. The house I am living in has an electric power shower which is nice. My cup of tea was made using water boiled in a kettle that needed electricity to make the kettle, and electricity to boil the water. The tea bag was processed in a factory somewhere using electricity. The soy milk I put in it was made in a factory somewhere using electricity, as were my porridge oats, which were also heated in a pan on a stove using electricity.
Phew… That was a long list, and we’ve just got started! So as you can see, I haven’t done much today, and look at the amount of electricity that already has had to be generated on my behalf. I don’t do work that uses lots of resources in the world, but already I seem to have burnt a lot of coal, and I have only come from home to the library! You see, our whole life as we know it depends on electricity to run it. I am sure most of you reading this own at least one electrical appliance you could not do without.
Look around you. Now imagine that the power stations have all just run out of resources. What starts to happen? First, all your portable gadgets; mp3 players, laptops, and mobile phones start running out of battery. Suddenly you can’t be “cool” walking down the street with your music player pounding your eardrums, suddenly you can’t be “cool” chatting to friends on your mobile you just left or are going to see in five minutes. There’s no one to text, and there’s no downloadable ringtones to impress everybody with. Finding wi-fi hotspots is a waste of time – they’ve stopped working, and you haven’t got anything to connect to them anyway, as computers require electricity to make! Shall we continue? Your favourite coffee shop can’t make any coffee any more, so you can’t sit and read the paper there, and anyway there’s no paper, as it requires electricity to make. The company you work for can’t make anything anymore unless it’s without electricity, and even if you don’t make anything how are you going to get in touch with your clients? So you go to the supermarket to buy some food but all the packaging requires electricity to make, and so does all the processed food. You come home to find that your house is in darkness. It is quiet. You go to cook some food, but there is no way to cook it. Your frozen food starts melting, and soon the food in the fridge starts to go off, as it needs to be kept cool. Watching television isn’t an option.
You sit down, pondering life for a moment. Why has this happened to you? You who has worked their way up in life. Look at all you have achieved. Look at the promotions you have been given. You have bought a nice house, you have a nice car you think people look at. You talk on your mobile phone incessantly planning something or other. You have a nice family, they go to a good school, and your partner doesn’t want for anything. Maybe you haven’t done so well in life, but these are the things you aspire to aren’t they? Everyone want a nice car, holidays in some faraway place, going out to restaurants, or buying the latest consumer goods. Now, no matter how hard you work you can never have them. What do you think about that?
Your status in the world depends on electricity!
So where does that leave you? Look around you again, wherever you are reading this, and tell me anything you can see that didn’t require some kind of electricity to be made? Is there anything? One thing? It’s unlikely. With the passing of the electrical age goes any form of mass production, food that requires storage or processing, gadgets to impress our friends with, cheap clothes, housing as we know it, or lighting. Need I list more? In fact, I might be so bold as to say that without electricity, life for you and me in the fast lane, is now very much at a standstill. There’s no one to phone to arrange going out for a drink, as the breweries haven’t been able to produce any beer because they need power to run their bottling plants. Same goes for wine and spirits. Oh, you can’t call them anyway, there’s no phones. Sure, you still have your possessions, but no one’s making you any new ones.
All your possessions that run on electricity are of no use to you now. You have to find amusement somewhere else. How do you feel right now? You’ve lost everything you have, although physically, it’s still there! No one’s impressed with you now. However you got the possessions, whether you worked honestly for them, or stole them, it doesn’t matter. They’re no good to you now and neither is your status in the world which was built on them.
You are alone. Your world must be getting quieter right now. The cities have gone quiet. Fast food is no more, the underground train is no more. Maybe crime has gone up, with some people not realising that stealing a tv is a worthless activity, even to barter for something else. After all, what good is a tv if there’s nothing to watch? What you probably should be thinking about is food though, because without electricity, and refrigeration in particular, you’re going to start getting pretty hungry pretty quickly.
You better be thinking about that right now.
Where does your food come from?
You all want to eat the finest food, but where does it actually come from? Even if you manage to get some food from a local farm there won’t be enough to feed a city. Where will you get it from? All this food that is transported world-wide needs to be refrigerated, otherwise it will go off quickly, and that’s just the fruit and vegetables. You can forget mass production and storage of meat. Without refrigeration and freezers it will go bad very quickly; the same with fish – mass trawled and frozen at sea. Without electricity, your food is going to have to come from a local farm in its raw state. Will there even be enough for everyone? Let’s hope the water and sewage system doesn’t require electricity either. Still, the environmentalists will be pleased, as you won’t be producing as much rubbish (just in case you forgot, there’s not much to produce without electricity). I’m sorry to keep going on about the same thing, and reiterating the same word, but can’t you see that we have built our whole world on shaky foundations?
Even this book I am writing (which I think is so important you all read), could not now be finished. The laptop I am writing it on would not turn on, the cd I have backed it up on would not play; and how would I get it printed, how would you all get to read it? Without electricity, we’re screwed! Sorry does that sound harsh? Well, I believe we all need a wake up call, you and I included, and the time to wake up is now. Who are you?
So as you sit in the dark feeling sorry for yourselves, what are you going to do? What will you do for work, how will you provide for yourself and your family if you have one? What will you do for pleasure? Will there be any time for pleasure? What are you doing here? What is the meaning of life?
For all of us (except those who still don’t have access to electricity, or the things it provides), we would be standing in a new world; an alien world, quite unlike anything any of us have ever seen, except maybe in the movies. This world would be very different to the one we inhabit now although it will be the same place, the same soil, the same ocean, and the same animals. The only thing that would start to be different, would be the people. That’s you and me!
Homo sapiens, the most intelligent beings on the planet.
So here we are. You and me. We speak different languages, we have different religions, we have different jobs, different opinions, we like different foods, we like to do different things for fun, but now when the electricity stops, how different are we? Well, we are still different; we still believe in different religions, have different political views; I am still violent, you are still peaceful, we still cannot understand each other because we speak a different language, and we still like different sports. But underneath all that, we have the same skin. Our body mechanics work in exactly the same way, our minds still feel fear, and our bodies still feel pain.
Electricity may be making our life easier, and giving us more free time, and saving our bodies from hard toil all day, but like the rest of the creatures on the planet we certainly don’t need it, although we have come to depend on it. But the human is a highly adaptable creature, without this adaptability it is doubtful that the species could have progressed as much as it has. We don’t need electricity. We have our minds, and we have our hands, and as we discussed earlier, up to recently not everyone had electricity in their homes. Up to the early 1800’s there was no such thing as a light bulb!
Whilst we are on the subject of electricity we must not fail to mention two other sources of power, oil and gas, which were both used before electricity became widely available. Can you imagine doing without oil or gas? No gas stoves, no gas central heating, no petroleum driven cars. The combination of oil, gas, and electricity make us who we are today, but it does not make us who we are at the core. If there was no electricity tomorrow, we’d all be in shock, a lot of us may die, unable to cope without the benefits that electricity, oil, or gas provides (e.g. mass food production, and distribution, and warmth), but we’d bounce back; we’d adapt. That’s what makes the human special.
Let me tell you about my experience with electricity. I was the guy who drove around in his powerful 4×4 jeep, talking on his mobile, listening to music with the window down so everyone could see how cool I was. I was the guy who worked in information technology, earned good money, and wasted it on electronic gadgets, beer, and having a good time. I had a small speedboat, went skiing regularly, took plenty of holidays, went out for meals all the time, and went to the cinema regularly. I always had the latest mobile phone, music player, or laptop (even after I had given up most other things). Now, take away the means to have that good time (oil, gas, or electricity), and who was I? I truthfully have no idea! My whole being was based around these items without even realising it. Is yours?
On reflection, to some extent I still am addicted to oil, gas, and electricity because I live in a western country that is addicted to them; so maybe I should go and live in the woods on my own and be self-sufficient, which means using no tools or instruments that were made with the aid of oil, gas, or electricity, to make shelter, grow crops, make clothes, heat water, cook food, and make a plate, knife and fork to eat with! Maybe we all should, and see what it’s like.
Until we go without power, how will we know who we really are? It’s all very well for me to sit here in my nice, warm, well lit library, talking to you about this, but when I finish writing today I will go back to a nice, warm, well lit, comfortable house where I will cook my food on an electric stove, sleep in a bed made with the use of electricity, and wash in a shower heated by electricity.
How can I talk to you about something I haven’t experienced? I have tried to wrestle with this in my mind before writing this topic, but I believe we can explore these concepts in our minds. So, now, try to imagine someone you know for a moment. It could be a friend, family member, or a colleague, someone who has a “powerful” or “important” position, or someone who has just “done well” for themselves. Or you can think about someone who is popular with everyone, or someone else who is clever, or someone everyone envies because he or she has a lot of money and an attractive partner. Have you got someone in mind? When you are clear about who it is in your mind we can start our investigation. What we are going to try to do here is deconstruct them! By that I mean peel away all the layers that are attributable to external forces such as oil, gas, or electricity (power from coal/nuclear), as these are things I like to call bolt-ons, in that they are bolted on to the core of the human, but they are not integral nor essential. You can do this in your mind or you can write it down on paper.
Deconstructing my father
To help you with your deconstruction, I would like to take you on a personal journey with me and introduce you to my father. He is 74 now and is retired, although he still works as hard as he ever did. He was born in glasgow just before the second world war, and although I don’t know much about his early life, I know he came from a poor working class family. He had a reasonable education, although I know he didn’t go to university. I don’t know about his early jobs, but I know that when he started work as a clerk for a large aerospace firm he started studying accounting and was determined to get up the ladder in the organisation.
Over the years he was promoted several times, and eventually left to seek his fortune in england. He quickly climbed the ladder through finance and finally through to managing director, where he stayed in one firm, successfully expanding it until he retired some fifteen years ago. Since then, he has worked for charitable organisations tirelessly.
So there you have it. A brief history of my father’s life. Fairly unremarkable but nonetheless, he came from nothing, and ended with quite a lot. From a poor background he created wealth, and eventually managed to buy himself a nice house. He used to drive a large bmw he believed gave him status. More recently, he has been studying art history – amongst other things – and loves going to the opera and the theatre. He considers himself well read and loves jazz and classical music. He also enjoys eating out.
Does he attribute any of his success to electrical power being available to him 24 hours a day? Of course not! But the fact is that without it, all of his “success” would be gone…
Let’s start with his early career working as a clerk for the aerospace firm. Without power there would be no aero engines being made, let alone getting planes off the ground.
The same goes for all the manufacturing companies he ran. He was a finance man, a strategist, but there’s no need for strategy if there’s no power to make anything is there? Without power he would be doing things by hand, not sitting in a posh office on the tenth floor. He wouldn’t have had time to read art history, there would be no bmw for him to drive, because they couldn’t make it without power. He wouldn’t be eating out because the restaurants need power to cook, power for lighting, and power to play ambient background music (which incidentally would have needed power to make the cd, record the music onto it, and distribute it to the shops). In short, my dad needed power to be who he was, and is. His whole being depended on electricity, and still does. I don’t know who he really is without the electricity. He has always tended to be quite arrogant about what he had done in his life, and what he knew, and how much money he had earned, but if there was no electricity there to “fuel” his ego who would he truly be?
Like most of us in the developed world, my father doesn’t know the “core” of himself.
He is a man who has bolted on success, art, status, knowledge, money, etc. to himself as a direct result of electricity, oil, and gas being available. It’s strange to think that not only does he not know himself, but no one else does either. Not his wife, his son, his ex-wife, his brother, his friends, or his colleagues. Nobody knows my father! I have only once or twice gained some insight into him when his guard has been down, and all I have seen is an angry, yet rather nervous human being (he may positively disagree with me here).
In fact, this man whom I have been describing could be anyone. He could be me. He could be you. He is just an ordinary human being who was born, grew up, followed what he thought he was supposed to do (work hard), was interested in sport and the arts, made a “contribution” to society via his charitable works, and will die one day. All without knowing that electricity gave him confidence. It gave him pleasure; it gave him power and status in business; it gave him ambition; it gave him comfort and security; it gave him life!
For the second deconstruction, it’s time to tackle someone a little closer to home, that’s right! You! This is not an exercise, more an observation of yourself in action in the world to see how electricity, oil, and gas have moulded who you are and what you think about. You don’t need to do it now, just start to pay attention to yourself as you go through your daily life as you casually pick up your mobile, or run yourself a hot bath, or read your emails, or shop at the supermarket.
Electricity, oil, and gas. Three things that have changed not only the world we live in, but how we view ourselves in the world. With all the bolt-ons that electricity can provide, we have created a whole new existence for ourselves. Indeed we are superficially happier. We feel more comfortable in the world surrounded by all our gadgets. We feel safer in our houses because they are well lit. We like the warmth that heating provides or the cooling that air conditioning provides if we live in a warm country. We like the convenience foods that mass production and distribution enables (thanks to electricity). We like everything that is shiny and new.
Oh no! What will happen if it all runs out one day?
“Don’t worry,” says you, “the scientists will have come up with a new way to generate power so we can still build things, buy things, and generally amuse ourselves.” But when we come down to it, we don’t need electricity, oil, or gas to survive, do we? Of course not! It’s just nice to have. It makes us feel less like the animals we deny we are, and separate from anything in the natural world. It keeps fear at bay. Fear of the dark, fear of strange creatures roaming around. Having all this “power” makes us feel invincible. It gives us strength, makes us feel important, makes us feel what we are doing in the world is worthwhile. But the animals don’t have it, do they? Nor do the birds, or the fish, and they seem to get on all right!
We need to face the fact that we are all afraid of life, and electricity helps us feel less afraid. We surround our core with the comfort that electricity provides, but in order to break free of fear we must start letting things go. I’m sure that’s a scary thought for most of you, and I can hear some of you saying “Why should I let go of something I like?”
But this is not about not having electric lights in your home, it’s about realising the psychological dependence on it. It’s about finding out who you are without it.
Yes, one good way to start is to go camping! I know this sounds silly, but it’s the closest thing most modern city or urban dwellers will get to removing electricity from their lives. Not the camping I have seen in countries like australia, where they bring everything but the kitchen sink with them. What I am talking about is going out camping with just your tent (which incidentally would have required electricity to make it) and some basic equipment and food (or better still, you could fast for the evening).
Don’t take a torch, music players, sat-nav, maps, or anything that will distract you. Don’t have your car or 4×4 with you, use public transport to get there, and walk the rest of the way. This can just be for one night, it’s up to you. When you are in your camping spot, pay close attention to the sounds and the smells around you. Listen to the animals at night, listen to the trees, and look up at the stars if it is a clear night. One thing you will notice is that you are ready for bed a lot earlier than normal.
Now it’s time to look at yourself. How do you feel in this place? How do you feel here alone? Who are you? I mean really? Now you have no bolt-ons it is just you, homo sapiens; the most resourceful, successful species on earth.
What do you miss? Are you scared without your four walls? Can you cope with the silence that is nature in the evening – if you pay close attention you will notice that nature is not silent at all. What do you look forward to when you return home? Why do you look forward to it? What are you dependent on? Could you live out here without electricity? Why not?
When you return to your city try to compare how you felt out in the wilderness with how you are feeling at home. What do you miss about being back? Anything? Nothing?
As I sit and write this last section, I look up at the electric light above my head, the clothes I am wearing, the wooden panelling in the writing room, the door, and I realise I am nothing without electricity. I, the modern human, am dependent on it, and I really have no idea who I’d be without it. It rules my life, as it rules yours; and until I can break free completely (which means living in a place where there is no electricity and no products are made using electricity or other source of power), I may never truly know, and that is a sad thought.
Many of us meditate, and follow ancient religions in the hope we will uncover who we really are; but we meditate in warm rooms, and listen to sermons in warm rooms, and live in comfortable surroundings. It is of the utmost importance that we find out who we are without electricity. It is only then we will truly start to know ourselves.
Who are we without electricity? Begin the search