The good life?

I’m sure we’ve all seen the television show in which a family moves to the country, buys a house with a large garden, grows their own vegetables, and raises chickens and pigs rather than buy its food from the local store.

Or the other one – of much more interest to those of us with an engineering bent – in which the idea of self-sufficiency is taken one step further and the family even generates its own power using water wheels, solar power systems, small wind turbines or geothermal energy devices.

Such shows are rather appealing – not in the least because it is tempting to imagine that one day, we all might live such independent lives, not only ridding ourselves of the shackles of the weekly shopping bill, but better yet, the power bills we pay to light and heat our homes.

Sadly, the idea of self-sufficiency is no more than a myth created by the producers of such shows. Because while the folks involved might well be able to raise a  few eggs and bacon for their breakfast – even cooking it using power that has been locally generated – the fact of the matter is that they are still highly dependent on the supporting roles of others to make their lifestyle possible.

Some of these other folk include the clever engineers who have worked hard to develop, market and maintain the energy-generation systems that the so-called self-sufficient families on the shows wind up deploying, since, for obvious reasons, they are unable to design and manufacture the technologies themselves.

But they are not the only ones who are overlooked in such programmes. So too are the scientists in our pharmaceutical industries who have developed the modern medicines without which such folks would not hope to live very long. And let’s not forget the important role played by the engineers at the computer and telecommunications companies. Without them, these self-sufficient people would be unable to communicate effectively with their friends and families.

The list of such people in vital support businesses is endless but I won’t go on – you’ve got the idea by now. The upshot is that because such people are so important to 21st century life, the self-sufficient picture painted by the television is actually no more than a myth.

That’s right. However much we might like to believe that we can lead independent lives, the truth is that, today, we are all completely dependent on the expertise of one another and, especially, the talents of those intelligent folks in the fields of science and engineering.

So unless the next self-sufficiency programme that comes on my television features a family of engineers, doctors and scientists who can not only create all the mechanical, electrical and pharmaceutical technologies that they use from scratch, I won’t be watching because they won’t be truly self-sufficient unless they do.

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Engineeringtalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest engineering products and services. To subscribe click here