I am way behind with writing about the books I’ve been reading. It seems to be getting worse this year. It all began last year during the first lockdown when my ability to concentrate just disappeared and it’s not fully come back yet. Now I have five books that I’ve read but not reviewed.
This is review of just one of them. When I sat down to write this post I’d intended to write short reviews of at least two or three of the books, but once I began I found that was impossible – I had too much to say about them. From being a post with short notes on what I’ve read recently this post as morphed into one of the longest posts about just one book that I’ve written – and I still don’t think I’ve captured the essence of it.
The Way Home:Tales from a Life Without Technology by Mark Boyle, a former business graduate, who lived entirely without money for three years. He has written columns for the Guardian and has irregularly contributed to international press, radio and television. He lives on a smallholding in Co. Galway, Ireland. This book follows the events of his first year of living without technology, interspersed with an account of a visit to Great Blaskett off the coast of County Kerry, to the south of Boyle’s new home. The Islanders were eventually evacuated to the mainland in the early 1950s.
The first thought I had about this book is that the concept of living without technology is alien to me. There is no way I could live like that and I wondered how he came to that decision and how he managed it with no running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio or light bulb. He built his home with his bare hands, learning to make fire, collecting water from the stream, foraging and fishing.
He had to clarify just what constitutes technology and what doesn’t. It wasn’t that easy to decide when you consider that even the pencil can be described as technology. He questioned where to draw the line such as the Stone Age, the Iron Age, or the eighteenth century? The more he thought about it the less important it seemed. He wanted to explore what it means to be human,
… to discover what it might feel like to become part of one’s landscape using only tools and technologies (if I must call them that) which, like the Old Order Amish people of North America, do not make me beholden to institutions and forces that have no regard for the principles and values on which I wish to live my life. (page 14)
The book follows the seasons of the year and rather than being the story of his life without technology is a collection of
observations, practicalities, conversations over farmyard gates, adventures and reflections, which I hope will provide an insight into the life of someone attempting to pare the extravagance of modernity back to the raw ingredients of life. (page 15)
It’s not a ‘how to’ book, nor is it a guide to living without technology. It’s an account of what it was like for him. He writes about the loneliness he experienced, the lack of contact with his parents and friends, and the damage to his relationships, particularly to his girlfriend, Kirsty, who initially shared his technology-free life. Without the internet and a phone it is difficult to keep in touch with people. There are letters and these became important to him, otherwise the way to communicate face to face was by walking. Formerly a vegan he found it difficult to adapt to killing in order to eat, for example killing a deer, skinning and butchering it. His thoughts on life and death had to undergo a dramatic change.
Life without technology is inevitably slower and more arduous. Living where there is no tap for instant water, and no switches to turn on a light is not simple either. One of the things he found difficult to adapt to was the way of writing. Previously he had used computers to write everything. Hand writing, however, involves a whole new way of thinking. He could no longer use the typed word, or online research, and without the use of spell-check, copy and paste or delete it is much harder to restructure a page and you have to start again. Eventually his thinking slowed down, so that he thought twice in order to write once. As I’m older than Boyle, I remember the process in reverse and my delight at being able to organise my writing using copy and paste with much more ease and speed than before, when I did literally ‘cut’ and ‘paste’, or rather staple, when writing.
There is so much more in this book that I haven’t covered in this post. I think it’s a remarkable and fascinating book, and it gave me much to think about. It’s ironic really, considering its subject, that I bought the e-book version, read it on my Kindle and wrote and posted this review on my laptop. It is also ironic that in order to publish the book, having written every word of it by hand, Mark Boyle had to get it typed up – which he did himself, reluctantly and with big reservations. It was not easy for him. He describes the effects of doing it as follows:
I felt less purposeful, like I no longer knew what my life was about, or what I stood for. By evening I felt entirely disconnected from the landscape around me, like I was no longer a part of it, but in some strange virtual universe instead. The natural light hurt my eyes as I re-emerged outside.
In some ways it was good and important for me to temporarily re-enter that world of things, so as to dispel any romantic memories I had about life being much better and easier with machines. The experience of it was such that, having made the compromise, I’m not sure I would make it again. (page 324)
- Publisher : Oneworld Publications (4 April 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 334 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1786077272
- ISBN-13 : 978-1786077271
- Source: I bought the e-book
- My rating: 4*