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One of my brothers lives off-grid. And when I say ‘off-grid’, I mean he lives as if the world had not moved on in the last 60 years. He has no Internet access, no TV, no credit or debit cards, no flushing toilet, no household bills, and no hot water. He lives in two static caravans in a secluded glade on the side of a Devon estuary with a woodburning stove for heat and a camping gas stove as his only form of cooking energy. He has a mobile phone, and his preferred method of communication is texting.

He has lived this way for the past 40 years or more, and he is the happiest, most contented person I know.

Off-grid living in Devon

He spends his days leisurely rising, getting his frugal meals together, feeding every living creature within a 500-metre radius of his home, wandering the banks of the river watching the wildlife and gathering driftwood for firewood, and penning poetry. For income, he collects and trades secondhand books, jewellery, ornaments, and curios.

It’s all lovely, and on the few occasions we go to see him, we spend idyllic hours just sitting, chatting, sipping tea, and generally enjoying the unspoilt nature around him. But when something goes wrong in our family, what is habitually a calm, kind and peaceful life becomes fraught, and creates frustration and anger in its wake.

When off-grid becomes off-target

The trouble with living outside of all the norms of modern society is that you are unconsciously unaware of everything you don’t know which is fine, until you need to know it. Then it becomes an uphill struggle to catch up with years of developments in a short space of time.

Since relocating to the UK and settling in Somerset, I have become the communications hub between my brother and the rest of the family and since a serious health issue has materialised with another brother, it has been, er, difficult.

For one thing, texting for me is a short, to-the-point form of communication which is useful in the absence of wifi if I want to let someone know where I am or what I’m doing. It is not a good way to share voluminous, complex information. Plus, because mobile phone reception is so poor in our village, the only place in the house where I can send or receive text messages is our bedroom.

Trying to fill in gaps spanning more than a decade in my off-grid brother’s knowledge, by text, is like attempting to re-paint the gable end with one, very small paintbrush. There are occasional phone calls to supplement, but they are few and far between and there’s just so much he doesn’t know. Every time a new piece of information is imparted, inevitable wrong conclusions are jumped to, and a dozen hares are set running that cause no end of argument and upset in the rest of the family.

It’s exhausting.

When worlds collide

I have no problem with anyone choosing to live off-grid.

Every day I see issues with people who have not grown up with technology, struggling to cope with the digital world, from trying to pay household bills online to getting a ticket from a Smart Parking machine. I see decline in town centres wherever I go, exacerbated by the rise in online shopping. And I have long held the view that social media has become a weapon of choice for bullies, racists, misogynists, homophobes, and all manner of human vermin. I am rapidly concluding the sooner it is regulated, or banned, the better. I feel sure it will come, sooner or later.

But, like the Luddites, we cannot halt the march of progress, nor should we. The world is changing exponentially and we either change with it or we choose to get left behind. The gap between those who buy in, and those who opt out, is getting wider by the day and becoming more and more difficult to bridge. And it will happen to the next generation, and the one after that, ad infinitum.

The question is – how do we enable both worlds to prosper without one impacting on the other? Answers on a postcard please…that’s a small piece of cardboard on which you write an address on one side and a short message on the other. Then attach a stamp (purchasable at something called a Post Office), and drop it into one of those odd, red boxes that you see occasionally in towns, cities, and villages.

Right, I’m off to text my brother.


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