I’ve noticed something. I’m aware that this trend started well before I was born. However, it does seem there’s been an increase in interest lately. Perhaps what we’re seeing is a return to the values of the ’70s. A key difference is the population is now twice what it was back then.
Many people, all around the world, are… all of a sudden it seems… wanting to move towards a way of living that is referred to as ‘Off-Grid.’
There is so much to be said about this topic that this will only be the first of many articles.
Let’s be clear, this is not a How-To article.
If you’re looking for an article that tells you how to go off-grid, this is not it.
And, frankly, how could it be? If you follow the Off-grid movement, you will be aware that one person’s idea of “Off-grid” is different from another’s, and that’s okay. “Off-grid” is a broad descriptor.
An “Off-grid” nomad may also identify as a “Van-lifer.” Someone with an “Off-grid” home might consider themselves as a “homesteader.” Someone might have a tiny house. Another person may have a backpack.
Wherever you’re at in your Off-grid journey, there are communities all over the internet bustling with activity.
A Facebook group search of the term “Off-grid” will populate with many groups with thousands of members. Some of the larger groups are broader and less geospecific, with geospecific groups also amassing impressive numbers.
Posts range from people looking to move off-grid asking for advice to responses conveying their own lives experiences. There are also posts from people with land or modular building businesses, trailers, buses, vans… the list goes on!
There are plenty of other spaces online where the interest is clear too, from Reddit to forums to Instagram.
Festivals and expos are another space offline where Off-grid enthusiasts and ‘Off-grid-ers’ alike converge.
What does “Off-grid” mean to you?
“Off-grid,” from my perspective, is just that… “Off the grid.” So what is the grid? Why are people wanting to get off it? If more and more people are becoming interested in getting off it by the day… then, is there something wrong with the grid?
All good questions to be asking. I’m asking them myself.
What is “the grid”?
The way I would define ‘the grid’, and this may be different for you or anyone else, is: the invisible (non-physical) framework and visible (physical) infrastructures that underpin the majority of the connected modernised (colonised, capitalist) society.
Most commonly and obviously the grid refers to centralised energy and water services, telecommunications and waste services. Basically, anything that requires your home to be ‘plugged in’ to a network via a centralised service.
You could also look at the grid as the home itself and its connection to the land it sits on, the infrastructure surrounding it including roads and footpaths, and the ‘grid-like’ organisation of suburban neighbourhoods. An urban and regional planning approach left-over from previous centuries combined with late-stage capitalism has resulted in endless sprawl.
The economic conditions and a demand for housing have resulted in an especially grid-like model of affordable housing. It seems to be popping up everywhere you look: on the edge of towns, regional centres, cities.
As I mentioned earlier, when I define the grid, I include the non-physical: the framework that underpins modern society. This, unfortunately (if you ask me), includes governance. There’s a big issue we all collectively face. This is because the resources we need to live are tied up in this grid and its governance. Trust in politicians, politics and the political system is at an all-time low, and rightly so!
When we see resources being sold out to corporate interests, do we have any reason to trust the political system? Not really.
The leadership of today instils no confidence in the people that their needs will be met. The majority are falling into poverty, after decades of working to keep families afloat, as the dollar becomes gradually worthless.
When I think about the grid, I can’t help but think about what centuries of top-down planning have left us. Urban-business-districts and highways. Grid-lock when too many of us travel at once. I could list more.
Then I have to think about the clock towers and the calendars as an extension of this grid-like system. From my perspective, “Off-grid” is about so much more than just where you get your power and water!
I suspect I’m not the only one who thinks like this when thinking about “Off-grid” living. One Facebook group titled ‘Off-grid living – leaving the matrix‘ has been growing rapidly. Leaving the matrix as an idea can be traced back to the movie ‘The Matrix’ starring Keanu Reaves. Central character Neo takes a pill to see how it really is, and ‘leave the matrix.’
So when we talk about getting off the grid, are we also talking about getting out of the grid?
How do we get Out-of-the-grid?
This is an interesting question because it will depend on what “Off-grid” means to you, and how far “off-grid” or “outside of the grid” you are aiming to get.
The Permaculture movement is interesting because it aims to empower individuals to live a more ecologically, consciously connected lifestyle. It sees ecological systems as part of a permanent culture and part of it is modifying our living environment to bring ecological systems into the home.
With this idea comes the idea of retrofitting an existing property, whether that property is owned or a rental.
In this way, the barrier to entry for a Permaculture lifestyle is lessened. Even renters can adopt a permaculture approach to a property. Conversations between renters and landlords could come to mutually beneficial arrangements.
But is this far enough ‘Out-of-the-grid’ for you? Does it represent your ‘Off-grid’ dream? Or is it only a temporary solution to a problem that we are all facing? A problem of wanting to get to something more sustainable and connected that perhaps doesn’t exist yet.
I know for me, this was a temporary solution. After several years on the road, putting down some roots whilst living a permaculture-retrofit lifestyle was appealing.
However, the rent was, in the long term, not sustainable. The affordability of the property was only due to an indefinite lease term.
Growing a garden without long-term housing stability is something that we were willing to do with our short lease. We were keen to jump in and get through the learning curve. But a garden is a long-term project. You learn through the seasons. Although we learned a lot in a year, we’re saving our seeds for our longer-term vision next time.
The property had a rainwater tank, so growing a garden was a step in the right direction. We even set up a produce ‘gifting’ stall on our front fence. The home was on mains power and water. With such a short lease, no one was going to be investing in retrofitting it.
Are conversations with a homeowner/landlord going to be fruitful? Realistically, owners are inspired by the delicate balance of their own financial circumstances.
Is a rental property with centralised services the most fertile place to sprout your ‘Off-grid’ dream?
Perhaps not. Particularly if what attracted you to Off-grid is the idea of being away from infrastructure, traffic, and pollution. Or becoming sufficient without these ‘services.’
What about Off-grid nomads?
At this point I have to mention all the Off-grid nomads out there, living life ‘on the road.’
Another population that is difficult to quantify, but by observation, anyone can see that there are plenty!
For me, this is where I consider my Off-grid journey started. I was a songwriter/musician, and life on the road sounded appealing.
I was living out of a suitcase. I had done this a couple of times in my life. This time I was serious about cutting the cord with possessions. I got a cheap van and set off for the sunset. No man, no plan. No power, no shower. No fridge… yeah I can’t think of a rhyme for that one.
Now, I’m once again going nomadic.
This time, there’s two of us setting up the latest vehicle as home base. We’ve even got ourselves a power station that can be topped up by a lightweight “solar blanket.”
So we’re now “Off-grid” in the most obvious sense of the word. Previously, I would consider us to be “Off-grid” because we had no power source.
This would be fine if we weren’t digital nomads. Having a power supply for the “digital” part of what we do is important. Previously, we would plug in at various destinations. So in that case, if we’re honest, we’re only “Off-grid” if our location is.
The Off-grid nomad lifestyle may be a choice for some, but not all.
For many, a car or a vehicle is what is left when you are no longer able to afford a ‘residence‘. For my own situation, I see it as both. It’s a choice that gives me some level of housing security with the bonus of nomadic freedom. Getting into the housing or rental market would be unsustainable with my current circumstances.
So is it really a choice? That’s a good question.
There’s a great film called Nomadland that explores the perspective of nomadic living in the current times. It doesn’t shy away from the realities of what has become a strange, somewhat dystopian, normality for the working classes.
There’s something this film also touches on that reminds me why I love this life. Why I made this choice. It’s not just because of the financial impossibility of the paradigm I have chosen to leave behind. It’s a values-based lifestyle.
It’s because of the love of people and the land. I can immerse myself in nature and be completely away from everyone when my spirit needs that. I also run into the same people all over the place and know that I’ll see them again.
There’s a sense of community that feels stronger than the community I knew before this. It’s family. It’s knowing that we’re on the journey of life and we don’t cling on to anything, we follow the sun and we’ll ‘see you down the road.’
Why go ‘Off-grid’?
There are many reasons that people would choose to go off-grid from a values perspective. Perhaps someone wants to be able to grow their own organic produce. Maybe they want to get away from EMFs, traffic, noise, and pollution. They may want to live close to nature and live a slower pace of ecologically mindful living. It might be all of the above.
For these people, “Off-grid” seems like the perfect option. For many, the Off-grid dream of long ago is now a lifestyle. Many people live an Off-grid life or are on their way towards it in one way or another. You could see it as a spectrum from ‘starting to go off-grid’ to ‘completely off or outside-of-the-grid’. It is clear from the online activity that this is an ever-increasing number of people.
There are also plenty of people who choose to live a nomadic lifestyle. Cars, 4WDs, vans, RVs, buses, caravans, tiny house trucks, gypsy wagons, suitcases, backpacks, or none of the above.
There are many tribal societies all over the Earth that have managed to retain their sovereignty and independence from the grid, some of these nomadic.
Having been able to achieve this is a bitter-sweet truth to acknowledge. On the one hand, this is an achievement. On the other, a misguided idea of achievement has led to the destruction of the natural world.
Yet this is a crucial time for humanity to recognise that we are not separate from nature. As the saying goes, we are nature defending herself. With the era of information has come much truth about the ecological knife-edge we are now on.
What’s next for the ‘Off-grid’ movement?
Is this knife-edge, along with the squeezing of the majority population fiscally by a minority, resulting perhaps in the mindset that will now create a new kind of technologically-adept tribal society?
One that seeks to protect the remaining tribal societies, and habitats for our animal brothers and sisters?
(And indeed, for all of us as well?)
Does this new kind of technologically-adept tribal society consist of, to borrow some lyrics from Xavier Rudd, ‘many tribes of a modern kind?’ I think so.
Do these tribes have members who stay put, tending to the Earth while nomads move from tribe to tribe. Perhaps these nomads share new ideas, art, stories about how we can relate to the Earth and each other?
And as complex as the grid has become, as much ‘progress‘ as there has been, it’s not as efficient as it could be.
One example: To access underground pipes we need to dig up the roads. After 100 years when the pipes have rusted, we create countless ‘jobs’ patching up the system. And somehow, we seem to see this as a good thing.
Admittedly, we are pretty busy patching up our system’s errors. Luckily, there are systems thinkers all over the world who are pretty talented at thinking about systems in new ways.
There are people building a new internet through something called Holochain. Using this technological infrastructure there will be the possibility of cleaner energy micro-grids through the Internet-Of-Energy-Network. Permaculture enthusiasts and eco-builders alike are constantly evolving natural building techniques that minimise the need for energy.
Here at Pardigm O we are also thinking systems combined with the wisdom of the old ways. Integrating old and new into a paradigm of Living Systems Designs and Networks.
With all this potential coming to fruition, are we about to see a mass exodus from ‘the grid‘ life? We are already seeing that people are not going back to work at jobs where they are undervalued and underpaid.
Instead of living out our worst dystopian fantasies, could we see people vacating the lives they had? Instead choosing to co-create Earth-centred new realities together?
This leads us back to the original question:
If more and more people are becoming interested in getting off-grid, is there something wrong with the grid?
This is the all-important question.
If the grid is supposed to represent human society and the best of what ‘civilisation’ has to offer, and people are now wanting to evacuate the grid, evacuate society and evacuate what civilisation has to offer, then surely we have to ask, what does it offer?
More people are beginning to realise that it doesn’t offer security and comfort in the way it once did. Many are beginning to question the role of government in our lives.
The last few years have seen the walls around us mutate from privilege to prison. The power any of us have had in the conversation at large feels minimal. Even before these recent years, there had been people who felt a sense of confinement from the way society is structured.
Into The Wild explored this idea and the soundtrack was just as powerful. These people were already seeking self-empowerment. Some of them, like us, want to co-create a more empowering reality for humanity.
Mobile-home living has long been an option for the nomadic lifestyle, and recently the arrival of ‘Tiny homes’ led to a new surge of interest in a kind of minimalism and mobile-home living that wasn’t quite as mobile but certainly can be Off-grid. Ideas around minimalist living and slowing down the pace of our lives became an interest around this time.
With the Ecological Imbalance (my preferred term to ‘Climate Change’, more holistically accurate) becoming increasingly obvious, values began shifting as humanity became aware of the part we have played just by living as we have been on this planet. For many, the idea of getting Off-grid is possibly a romanticised way of saying ‘F you‘ to a system that is consuming our home (the planet) and our time!
I say romanticised because there is certainly something romantic about ‘getting away from it all’ and unplugging from the grid. There’s a good feeling that comes with cutting ties from the things that we all know are detrimental to Earth.
Yet, in the case of Off-grid living, it’s important to acknowledge that whilst there are ecological benefits to people leaving the grid and new modern-day tribes forming. If we do not acknowledge that the grid is broken we might be building two roads forward instead of unifying one.
A separated society. With that comes the heartbreak of broken families lost loves and psychological trauma that is not ours alone. We must acknowledge that the trauma we don’t face is passed on to the next generations.
By acknowledging that people want out of a broken system, we have a better chance of unifying a way forward. One that enables all people to move towards a way of life that is what people desire to be living. Not just surviving, but thriving.
If we collectively ignore the Off-grid movement and continue to pursue living systems that are out of alignment with the collective needs of society, what it values now as opposed to in the past, and incapable of operating at scale and with the resilience we need, we are missing an opportunity.
The opportunity that we are missing is a matter of life or death for many. The way in which we respond to the urgent need for the redistribution of wealth, and access to resources is a timely matter.
Convergences over policy without the intention of rolling out policy change that would see radically re-designed living systems are nothing but smoke and mirrors in this eleventh hour we are facing.
However, the Off-grid movement gives us all hope in two ways.
Off-grid futures: two possibilities
The first possibility:
As these Off-grid tribes of a modern kind begin to harmonise with nature, we will see more re-wilding. With that comes remembering all that we are capable of being.
This Off-grid way of living will exist simultaneously with the existing grid and experiences of liveability will be shared. We will stay connected by technology and share stories of our way of life, whichever it is that we have chosen.
If Off-grid living becomes appealing, many will choose to move from one system to another and this could see a gradual migration away from top-down approaches to governance. This could evolve from attitudes gained when many have reached a level of self-sufficiency that is empowering them to be independently contributing to the collective good rather than dependent on a system as our existing grid system had made us.
The second possibility:
We acknowledge that there is much to be learned from this movement. We unify and decide not to put up with the continuation of a broken grid. Instead, we collectively transform broken systems and the entire society from the inside out, bottom to top. If this happens, we are heading towards the kind of equalitarian, self-evolving society that I’d love to see.
Either way, there is something to be hopeful about.
There are also infinite other possibilities. As an optimist, I’ve given you two positive ones to focus on. The stories we tell and the possibilities we focus on are powerful.
We can redesign our society together.
We must remember that it is the birthright of all of us to do that. This redesign is not something that should be allowed to take place in closed quarters without full transparency and an opportunity for us all to co-create it and definitely should not be forced upon us.
The time to unify and be strong as individuals co-creating a collective future is now.
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