I do an audience analysis exercise in my freshman composition classes at community college. As part of it, students have to compose questions about their topic for their classmates, to determine how people feel about it, how familiar it is, and what people already know. I join in, since I’m always writing something myself, and since it’s interesting to hear what students are thinking. Generally my questions are about subjects like peak oil, future technologies, and climate change. It is striking, though not conclusive, that over the past few years students’ answers have become increasingly pessimistic. They’ve gone from rocket cars and living on Mars to a future of pollution, sea level rise, and extinction.
We need to have longer memories than we do. The last two hundred years are not representative of the life of our species. They were built on a foundation that is not sustainable, and when it crumbles, our capacity for innovation may need to be replaced by our capacity for renovation. Old technologies that were designed with the limits of economics and planetary sustainability in mind will once again become valuable, and our lives will have to change drastically as a result.
Our current ability to do without full-time homemakers relies on technologies that we may not be able to count on in the future – electricity on demand, highly processed and storeable foods, gasoline for commuting, shopping, and entertainment, etc. In a sustainable and responsible culture, there will be meaningful, even essential, work to be done at home. I’ll outline a few contributions of homemakers to a post-industrial society and offer my own experimentation, its successes and its failures.