The Way Home: Tales from a Life without Technology by Mark Boyle
Mark Boyle is no stranger to remaking himself. In the fall of 2008, he embarked on an experiment in living without money, documenting the experience with the publication of The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living (2010) and a follow-up guide, The Moneyless Manifesto: Live Well, Live Rich, Live Free.
He has been a vegan and a hunter; a business school graduate and an organic food company manager. In 2007, he set out to walk from southwest England to the birthplace of Gandhi in India.
The Way Home: Tales from a Life without Technology is the product of Boyle’s newest experiment in simple living, which began on the winter solstice in 2016 when he turned off his phone for the last time, vowing to live without “industrial-scale, complex technology” for at least a full year. No hot showers, recorded music, news, or social media. No internet, car, running water, matches or light bulbs.
In preparation, Boyle and his partner built a rustic cabin on a three-acre smallholding in County Galway, Ireland, complete with garden space to grow food, a composting toilet, and nearby neighbors for bartering and the support of community. Surrounding wild areas provided opportunities for foraging.
Uncertain of how he would respond to the lack of technology, Boyle wondered if he would get bored. Would he feel isolated or peaceful? Was it even possible to live a more elemental lifestyle in the modern world?
Initially, most pressing was the question of whether he would be able to continue his livelihood as a writer in a world where publishers expect authors to communicate electronically and be available for book tours. He wanted to write a book about the experience, but the manuscript would be written in longhand on paper and any communication with editors would be by snail mail.
Some readers may be frustrated by the fact that Boyle is not completely clear where he draws the line on technology. He rejects owning a car or motorbike, but does occasionally hitchhike when needing to travel longer distances. Matches are verboten, but steel implements are acceptable. He communicates by letters, which are transported via fossil-fuel-powered vehicles.
Nevertheless, Boyle’s ingenuity and dedication are impressive. He constructs a DIY hot tub from cob (a mixture of clay, straw, sand and water) and found materials. His garden includes soapwort, a perennial rich in saponins, which is chopped up and heated slowly in a pot of water to use for washing clothes, body and hair.
Undeniably, one result of unplugging is a deeper connection to the land, nature’s cycles, nearby neighbors and community. Whether or not you believe, as is stated in the frontispiece, that the “boundaries between man and machine are blurring,” this elegy for a simpler life with deep connections to nature and fellow human beings is inspiring.
isa Gresham is the Collection Services Manager at the Whatcom County Library System. WCLS is celebrating its 75th year of sharing stories with the rural parts of Whatcom County. If you live outside the city limits of Bellingham, you can apply for a WCLS library card at https://www.wcls.org/get-a-card
(Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, Wednesday, July 17, 2019.)