Jilly D.

Lurking on the digital edge at the Ulysses Philomatic Society

In Off-The-Grid Memoir on March 28, 2014 at 2:05 pm

100_1029Sam had been off-the-grid so long even the IRS didn’t know where to find him. I lurked on the digital edge in the Ulysses Philomatic Society, i.e., the public library in Trumansburg. This gorgeous new Georgian style brick building stands on the corner of Main and South Streets. Inside there is a fireplace with comfy stuffed chairs nearby; new wooden tables spread with local and regional newspapers; banks of computers and catalog search monitors and under the high ceilings are stacks after stacks of books. The light, warmth and spirit of this place welcome everyone who enters the doors.

The library is used by so many adults during the day you can hardly find a place to sit down much less use one of the library’s computers. The number of terminals has doubled, but the public’s use has quadrupled. I am no longer alone on a March morning with the volunteers who restock the library shelves. Unemployment and underemployment lead many to use the library’s computers for job searches and online social networking. You can read the daily newspaper for free. You can search online without a computer of your own. The library can get its hands on just about any book you want through the Inter-library loan system.

Joe Doyle is a retired single gentleman who volunteers every week at the front check-out desk of the Ulysses Philomatic Society. After the stock market crash in the fall of ’09, I asked him how he had fared. He lives on a fixed income.

“Lost nearly everything. I’ve got no way to make that up. My monthly income is now half what it was,” Joe said. “But others have it just as bad; some worse.” Joe helps patrons utilize the resources of the public library, especially the computers. Patrons tell Joe their stories.

I set up a free email account at the library for the farm business because the farmers markets, department of agriculture and markets, customers and suppliers all asked for it. When Sam and I decided to market our new cottage rentals, I knew we needed a website. And I knew Sam wouldn’t build it; he hates computers. I had been able to keep cyberspace and the digital universe at arm’s length for nearly five years. I confess I liked it that way. Keeping it off the property maintained physical distance from unreality.

yellow beansPeople don’t buy their peas or beans online here in upstate New York. I’ve read about the Fresh Direct delivery trucks in New York City but it seems surreal to me. Here people come to the farm or the farmer’s market for local seasonal produce. Many more join local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture; where you buy a share of the farm’s yield at the start of season). While there are plenty of farmers and local small businesses who have websites, I really couldn’t see the point. The cost of building a website would never be earned back in bean sales at $3 per quart. I sold produce face to face and enjoyed a direct and personal relationship with my customers. I ate the same thing I sold them and I hoped they enjoyed it half as much as I did.

But when someone is looking for a low-carbon footprint vacation destination, where do they search? The internet. People look online before they consult the yellow pages or a travel agent anymore. I argue with Sam that the internet saves gas so people don’t drive all over and it saves paper. If we were to become known as a vacation destination we needed to establish a web presence.

I built a website with the help of my friend, Tina MacCheyne, from High Point Farm LLC in Trumansburg. She built her own website for their grass-fed beef business. I learn a lot from Tina. She was the first around here to set up a meat CSA offering pasture-raised pork, grass-fed beef, chicken, eggs and cheese.

Most days I feel as though blogging about the farm is like leaving messages in bottles. You send them out into the ocean and they wind up on the most exotic of shores.

For many months the farm’s website has been the center of attention to spammers in Burkina Faso and the Cote d’Ivoire who beg me in email solicitations to help them deposit their millions of dollars into my bank account or book their royal guests in our humble lodgings.

Can you hear time getting sucked into a vacuum? Sounds like the whirring of the computer booting up and the stillness of World Wide Waiting. Computers are enormous time-suckers. I prefer to spend more time offline. In summer I don’t have time to blog. In winter, I only work for two hours at a time on the keyboard. That’s about as long as the battery lasts. When I go to the library, I charge up the battery and use the internet which takes no more than two hours. I can’t afford any more time than that sitting at the computer. I feel as though I am consuming far more than I am producing.

“You can’t eat, heat with, or wear that computer, so what good is it?” Sam asks me. Time wasted on the computer is the most vicious time waste of all. The opportunity costs are enormous. I could be spinning. I could be baking bread. I could be reading a good article or book. I could be sewing a button back on my coat. I could be. I should be.

Intellectually I know we face the end of the fossil fuel era and suspect this consumer-driven economy will fall like a house of cards sometime soon. I had lived my daily life disconnected from what I knew to be true. The world can not go on like this. I had been alienated from my colleagues, my students, and myself, my own body and especially my own labor. I didn’t stop to question my participation in my own oppression. With a hope and a prayer, the missives into cyberspace go out where those who seek a retreat from grid logic might book lodgings in Sam’s new venture into agri-tourism.

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  1. “I didn’t stop to question my participation in my own oppression.” Beautiful!

  2. This piece starts with a fantastic line and goes strong. I feel you weighing the value of two worlds and figuring how to have the best of both I understand. The computer world tends to eat up everything, I say as I sit here at my computer.

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