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Guyon: Off The Grid

(Host) Maybe it's all the storms and power outages in the news lately, but writer and commentator Annie Guyon has been thinking about the many definitions of the expression living off the grid - and she's heard a few interesting variations.

(Guyon) When people say they live off the grid, it's a point of pride. But it means different things, for different people.

Asa kid, I thought my great Auntie Maude in England had never been near the grid because she had no hot water...bathtub...or shower, no phone and no fridge. She boiled water for her weekly sponge bath and washing dishes.She didn't mind not having a phone, carefully penning letters on crinkly paper instead. And she kept her butter, cheese and milk bottles in a bucket of cool tap water in the shade behind her cottage. To me, that was about as griddles as you could get.

Nowadays, there are folks who live off the grid in other ways, especially in rural areas-heating their homes with wood they chop themselves, growing their own produce, and sometimes raising and butchering their own chickens and livestock. No TVs... no computers... no cell phones. Then there are the folks in extremely remote areas who declare that they're grid-independent, but are completely addicted to the Internet.

There are urbanite versions too. Some proudly insist they're living off the grid because they don't own a television, but they stream reality shows every night on their laptop. Others consider themselves grid-free because they only buy organic, but what they buy is produce transported from far-off lands in fossil-fuel-guzzling airplanes and trucks to the mega yuppy natural food chain down the street.

Me, I openly admit that I don't just live on the grid, my life wouldn't function without it. I wouldn't have the career I have without my computer... the Internet... and my droid. I have favorite TV shows, I'm an NPR junkie and, though I heat my house mostly with wood, I sure appreciate my thermostat-controlled radiators taking the edge off the early morning cold.

It's all relative, this notion of grid-dependence. At a recent dinner party, a man introduced himself and began telling me about the eco-groovy home he's building. With sustainable materials, he's creating a beautiful, self-sufficient homestead out in the woods, which will have a solar-powered hot water heater and a wood stove only for heat. He will have no DSL, no TV, and will live independently, without mega corporations his quality of life. Like a modern day Scott Nearing, he's going back to the land. I told him I think it's very admirable what he's doing, because I don't have it in me to live that way. He assured me it's not that hard to reject societal norms and make the switch to a simpler life, and went on to further explain his philosophy.

But I think the transition might be a bit harder for him than he realizes. After describing his anti-grid plan to eschew a mainstream lifestyle, he eagerly asked, Hey,can I friend you on Facebook?

Annie Guyon works in Development at Dartmouth College and occasionally writes as a freelancer for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
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