It’s Friday. Let Me Ask You A Question.

So a while ago, my better half read me a story from some web site, involving some survey that was taken regarding what modern conveniences without which people could not live.

Household discussion ensued, much of it centering on the question of “couldn’t” vs. “wouldn’t want to.” For example, I really wouldn’t want to live without electric light in this day and age. However, the absence of electric light doesn’t mean I would flounder and perish. Refrigeration makes an enormous difference in my quality of life, but I’ve also lived without it and while every Ohio summer would likely make me want to live elsewhere if there were no cooling technology and refrigeration for food, it’s not like it would be impossible. And yet, things like “air to breathe” and “the sun” are kinda… well… no-brainers. So they don’t really need to be on the list.

At a minimum, I believe in always having a blade and a means to make a fire. Some hardcore survival type folks also say “cordage,” but as to that, I’m generally unconcerned — because I have the ability to produce cordage from practically anything and because the odds of me being somewhere without yarn or yarn-related stuff are pretty much zero — although it’s a very, very good idea if, you know, you’re not a human textile mill. Anyway, those three things make just about everything else possible, so that’s why I’m never without a blade and fire. Unless, of course, I’m on an airplane, which really bums me out, because the scenario I always believed in being ready to handle was surviving a plane crash in the middle of nowhere.

But I digress. All of that is survival; but what about quality of life? What 5 trappings of the modern (not necessarily totally industrial) world would I really rather not have to eliminate from my day to day existence? Is it the Internet? Telephony? Global shipping? Air travel? Fast food? Nah. Here’s my list of five things, and I’d love to hear yours.

#1. Sanitation. This is not purely an industrial thing, but 20th century sanitation, man, I’m telling you — I have lived without it, and I have missed it. This is a really serious quality of life issue all over the world.

#2. Antibiotics. Dear Antibiotics: I owe you my life, many times over. Thank you.

#3. Dentistry. I mean, I guess it might not matter without the first two, considering life expectancy would also be short, but as much as I hate going to the dentist and all, I have all my teeth save one, and that one’s got a fancy implant you can’t even tell isn’t a real tooth. Teeth are awesome. Modern dentistry keeps them. Win.

#4. Refrigeration. Dude, you do wonders for food, and also make cold beer possible year-round.

#5. The washing machine. This probably changes if I don’t have a child, but the amount of time the washing machine saves me is… it’s… it’s just staggering. I’ve lived without this technology (and without access to laundromats, for instance) and handwashing all your clothes and bedding and household textiles is a lot of work.

So what are yours? Let’s hear it!

17 thoughts on “It’s Friday. Let Me Ask You A Question.

  1. 1: Modern medicine: literally couldn’t live without it; 2. the printing press: could be argued our greatest invention; 3. electricity; 4. computers; 5. and finally, I’ll jump on the washing machine band wagon. I’d REALLY hate to have wash my own clothes!

  2. 1: Utensils. Because I know where my hands have been
    2: Indoor plumbing (I’ve done the outhouse thing as well as fetching my own bath water)
    3: Refrigeration: Because nothing beats a cold beer at the end of the day
    4: Beer. See #3 above
    5: Footwear. As a pedestrian, good footwear is a necessity

  3. I have to go with plumbing too; not so much for the non-outhouse part (though that is lovely) but just having water piped into the house and drained away. It amazes me how much people complain about paying more than 20$ a month to have water delivered to their tap. Try hauling it in a gallon at a time.

  4. That pretty much covers the can’t live without it list for me, if you substitute modern medicine for the antibiotics. And for dentistry I assume you are including modern drugs and tools along with it, because the thought of dentistry without those tools doesn’t bear thinking of.

    But along side that list in the “so glad to have it” category, I’d include modern textiles because as much as I love wool, I appreciate spandex and Lycra in my cotton very much too. I’ll also go along with Amy and the plumbing. I’ve lived with a hand pump and an outhouse and it’s doable as a summer vacation alternative, but I don’t think I’d enjoy it so much as a part of daily life.

  5. I think I’d plump for everything on your list, but I’d take out dentistry and substitute EMTs – emergency medicine in general and (if it’s not cheating) a way to call said emergency medical personnel. I know people who would have died without it, and some who did because of its lack.

    This is a great question – it certainly got me thinking!

  6. #1. Sanitation. That includes plumbing.
    #2. Modern medicine. You can include dentistry if you want.
    #3. Communications. The ability to communicate quickly is a game changer.
    #4. Refrigeration.
    #5. Transportation, because with transportation, all kinds of things become possible. I’d include the clothes washer, because I’ve done all my laundry by hand on a washboard in the past, but I think transportation is more important. It enables factory systems, from which I can develop washers and other things.

  7. Fyi I only stumbled upon your site b/c of the drop spindle youtube you have.

    1. Glass
    2. Iron/or steel
    3. Radio
    4. Some kind of water filtration system

  8. *Musical instruments. I’d go crazy if all I had was my voice and whatever I could make by hand. Reeds and strings. And drums, of course.
    *I think the modern understanding of solar energy is a very good thing. I would suffer without hot showers. (Have you seen the very dark shelters lit up by water-filled soda bottles puncturing the roof? Amazing amount of light!)
    *Chemistry enough to make soap and toothpaste.

    Let’s see, that’s three.
    *Writing, for sure. Printing is nice too, but at least writing.
    *A roto-tiller is great, but plow, harrow, and harness would be enough.

    Ah, subsistence living. A dream and a nightmare.

  9. Interesting. Considering that there are still thousands of people in this state without power 6 days after that October noreaster (and 300,000 without power in CT, btw), this is relevant to my interests (although I didn’t lose power).

    First off, it depends (ha!) on what you mean by modern. I bet 95%, maybe 99%, of us would never have been born without someone coming up with twisted fiber and food cultivation a long time ago – but I suspect you mean somewhat more modern than that.

    So, here are the modern (post, say, 1800) conveniences I think North Americans don’t live easily without: Cars. Supermarkets/groceries. Electric/electronic communication, from the telegraph forward. Antibiotics (BIG one). Plumbing. Easy temperature control. Easily controlled lighting. Force-fed entertainment (I suppose I mean mass entertainment). I bet there’s more, but my tea water is boiling….

  10. 1 — modern medicine, in which I include opthamology (especially relevant since I was near-sighted to the edge of legally blind until cataract surgery) and antibiotics and surgery
    2 — technology and the ability thereby to maintain relationships across the planet
    3 — refrigeration in all forms (this includes air conditioning, I understand our forefathers didn’t have it and still don’t understand how people survived the heat)
    4 — sanitation
    5 — indoor plumbing

  11. Hey, I know there’ve been folks in the northeast without power for a few days to a week… which is more than I can say for the northeast being aware there were millions without power in THIS area in 2008, some for almost a month (we were only down 5-6 days personally). 😉 Remember, if it happens in the northeast, it matters. If it happens in a state without a seacoast, whut?

    But seriously… what about you *personally*, Lynn? Hrmmm? By “modern,” let’s go with… past 500 years.

  12. I am a modern homesteader and also work at a living history museum and here is my list:

    1. Modern dentistry – I have lousy teeth so no dentist is scary for me.

    2. Running water – the only thing I hate when the power goes off – no water!

    3. Easy access to a few things not locally grown (I live in the northeast) – coffee, sugar, citrus fruits, pepper etc.

    4. Easy access to alcohol – I can make a tincture but somebody has to get me the vodka!

    5. I have to admit I would miss this computer – I could live without it but I would miss it!

    Abby this is a little off topic but your post made me think of it – I have been trying to figure out how to make nettle fiber from the nettles growing wild here – have you ever done that?

  13. 1 – sanitation (outhouses suck at -40)
    2 – refrigeration (freezers are very handy things, even if you don’t really need one at -40)
    3 – modern medicine (antibiotics, knowledge, dentists 🙂 )
    4 – communications (because if you don’t know it, someone out there does and it’s nice to be able to connect to that knowledge)
    5 – transportation network (even if you remove cars from the equation, being able to get to places relatively easily is good)

    Of course if you’re talking dropped in the bush options, I’d like secure fire, a couple of machetes to go with the good butcher knife, a spade, a good tarp and some sheep.

  14. I don’t think I can fit this into the list of five format, but my priorities are medicine (including dental,) hot water (the more accessible the better, preferably not requiring building a fire,) hi-tech sturdy shoes and clothing (like outerwear – I can make myself wool sweaters, but not weatherproof jackets,) some kind of gas stove, and although I use my computer an awful lot, I could handle any communication system, even just a postal service.

    On the survival topic, I decided some time ago that one thing I’d always want with me is a bucket. Because it would be hard to make a watertight vessel with just a pocketknife. Maybe one of those collapsible vinyl ones – they’d probably even let us on a plane with that….

  15. My husband does our laundry and he put the washing machine at the top of the list as it takes him all Saturday as it is to do our laundry. We live in Germany and have German appliances that function differently …read longer…than American ones.
    -Medicine
    -Clean Water (nice if it is piped in and out)
    -Books/libraries/information Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov did an essay about a low energy information system that doesn’t require any more energy after it has been created – ‘the book’
    -hard to beat refrigeration for food
    -I know you can bar-b-que anything outside (and I like fire), but I would miss a good stove/oven that can be regulated and left to work on its own.
    (The washingmachine was my husband’s.)

  16. I just spent the week at my parents’ log cabin. They have added to it over the years, but it started from a pile of unstripped logs and no electricity. 1. I have to put the out house at the top of my list. I don’t like stepping in it and I don’t want to walk too far either. (P.S. The water lines never freeze. It’s always there.) 2. The water pump in the front yard was a blessing. Safe water is a necessity. I liked it better when they piped the water into the cabin. 3. I love a good stone fire place that holds the heat all night. 4. I want my hand tools. (knife, ax, saw, shovel, spindle, needle, pen, etc.) 5: I can’t live life without my library. I can live quite easily without a tv and computer. I think. Maybe. Can I get back to you on that.

  17. 1. Sanitation. I live with a porta-potty 3 weeks out of the year, but it’s really nice to pull into a marina and have them pump it out. Outhouses are the pits. Pun intended. Does this include clean water? It should.
    2. Washing machine. I might be OK with washing clothes by hand, but not the bedding. I’m adding soap here. Not saying i couldn’t make my own.
    3. Refrigeration. Not into canned food, except tomatoes.
    4. Probably modern medicine. I haven’t needed it much, but as you said, not having it can kill you. Vaccinations, antibiotics. Good stuff.
    5. Books. Can’t live without books.

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