Mark DeArtola

Ethnography: Pre-Electric Culture

a night without electricity

Living without electricity is something I think we all wonder about, but immediately shutter it away to reach back for our precious phones, laptops, and other electronic gadgets. Even when going camping, many of us take some sort of electrical device, to listen to music perhaps. But once in a while, it is good to just step away for a bit.

This week’s art 110 activity is just that. It’s hard to do this living in an urban area but I think I found a good spot at home. While it’s quite bare, it definitely gets the job done. As shown in the picture, this is the roof deck of our house. I simply laid down a mattress and blanket and lay down to take it all in.

At first I was like what the heck am I doing up here. I was used to listening to music as I fall asleep. I was missing that ongoing background noise. But then I realized the other background noise. The rustling of our neighbors towering palm tree and his Chinese elm tree. It was dark so most birds were asleep, but I still heard a few here and there. There were also a few insects to be heard. But mostly it was peaceful. If I got up to look around I would see the steep side of the San Gabriel mountains as a dark silhouette. And although I would see many other buildings and many homes, our street was quiet and I did not see any cars. I could faintly hear them on the main roads a little farther away. The sky was pretty clear that night, and it actually helped a little that I was three stories up, above most of street lights and whatnot. When you don’t have your phone to look at you realize that there actually are a few more stars in the sky than you would expect for a Los Angeles night. You realize this especially when you start trying to count them.

Eventually I got tired of trying to count them and my mind would wander. I would think about what I had to do the next day, about my homework, and simply just sorting my life out. I think this helped me get better rest because when I fell asleep, many things had been sifted through and organized in my head. It was a very peaceful sleep that’s for sure. I highly recommend it. Now I really want to go camping under the stars.

I would not say this was a “hard” experience but it was definitely unique. Neither would I say that it was frustrating. If anything it was liberating. We look to our phones for liberation from boredom, but then we basically become enslaved by our phones. This experience away from technology was good. It was more harmonious with nature as well. You start taking in the sights (stars) and sounds of nature. We as humans are a part of nature anyway, but we tend to alienate ourselves from nature through technology. Living without electricity can’t be said to be boring. All of a sudden you realize there is so much more to explore outside of what we normally plug into. I am sure people without electricity were very in tune with this world, and they probably led a more carefree life. Technology is supposed to simplify things, but for some reason, in this world everything is more high strung and everyone seems to suffer from stress.

Ideally for me I would like to do this on a monthly basis if I could. I would go camping maybe on a weekend. Leave my electronics behind, and simply unwind from society for a night or two. The rest of the week I would carry on as I normally do as far as connectivity goes. There is no way this world can run without it, and therefore we must use it. It is all good as long we know we can disconnect for a little bit, and remember there is a world outside of the vast world of the internet. It is only because of that world that the world of the internet exists.

photo of a flat, third story rooftop
Rooftop, photo by Mark DeArtola.