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Sun storms and our tenuous grasp on a (boring) technological society

After a weekend of brown-signing at Britain’s oldest brewery (more on that in the next blog) and working all hours at the restaurant I flopped into bed after work last night exhausted with my glass of wine, boyfriend and BBC Horizon on iPlayer (now that’s what I call living the dream). I love programmes about all things space, hardcore physics and other mind boggling concepts, I’ll never truly understand them but I still find them absolutely fascinating. The episode I was eager to watch was about sun storms. A sun storm is a term given to the emissions of great energy that get blasted relatively frequently from the surface of the sun. The earth gets protected from these highly dangerous blasts of charged particles by our magnetic poles which deflect the energy and if you were to travel toward a pole you could see the physical manifestation of it through the Aurorae Borealis light show which it creates.

As long as I’ve known about sun storms I’ve found them intriguing, not just because I’m a nerd but also because they remind me of the very fragile place we inhabit in the vastness of the universe. One of the programme’s theme’s focussed on how astronomers expect a lot more of these sun storms to occur in greater intensity over the next few years. The key thing for us humans is not that this might kill us or cause the earth physical damage, but that a sun storm could cause such surges and changes to the magnetic and electrical fields that they could shut down power stations and effectively black us out until we manage to fix everything and get the lights back on. Of course being without power would have a massive impact on everything, from base level things like keeping ourselves warm to global infrastructures like banking and so many other data driven technological systems we have become reliant on. It got me thinking about where we would all be and what would happen if a big sun storm were to occur. It would cause huge widespread societal mayhem and devastation (especially to those who’d just bought iPads) but really, after a little time it would just mean the things that are superfluous to survival simply wouldn’t matter any more.

In our western world we’ve become so used to taking our own survival for granted and it’s not surprising either. With such amazing, accessible healthcare provision, governments that provide complex infrastructures for us that include benefit systems and housing, minimum wages, laws protecting our safety and the ability for us to get heat and light at the flick of a switch we can all be forgiven for forgetting how to tie our own shoelaces (sorry) survive without them. But the problem with having these great things provided for us on a huge scale is that we may naturally lose the inherent skills and knowledge needed to fend for ourselves. Many of us do grow vegetables and fix things that are broken but these days isn’t it just a alot easier to nip to the supermarket for food or buy new stuff when things break? It’s all so cheap and easy it seems stupid not to, and so everyone does, but (and I’m sorry to burst the human race’s bubble here) I’m think I’m right to be inherently suspicious of things that are easy.

What I find so interesting is that if a big loss of power did occur we would all need to adjust the way we lived very quickly, and we’d be turning to the people who’ve kept age old ways of surviving alive, ways that got us through before the days of mass production and global communication systems. Knowledge of the things we can do with a bit of thought from our big old brains and a pair of hands are the things that I find most interesting, and is the whole reason I’m doing my brown sign project.

Most brown signed attractions are run by people who care about things that have nothing to do with worldwide markets and on demand TV. Passions that are timeless are ones that empower the person doing them, and you only get feelings of empowerment and achievement when you have literally done something for yourself, with your own two hands. Flicking a switch to light a room or eating a hot a meal provides no sense of triumph unless you’ve wired the circuit or grown and cooked the ingredients for the meal yourself.

Brown signed destinations come in many different forms but the vast majority of them are all places that appeal to the human need to engage with the world around us and quenches the desire to get stuck in. They include playing sports, exploring museums, seeing how people can harness wind, horse and water power, immersing oneself in nature, sleeping outdoors, inspiring people through story telling and idea sharing, learning new skills and speaking to people who care about many different things; all with a hands on approach that disappears completely when you switch on the TV or surf the net.

So if a solar storm takes all our technology away and it teaches us to come back down to earth a little, forces us to appreciate the importance of getting out there, doing more for ourselves and caring less for the superfluous things in this life well… then I’m afraid I’m all for it. Viva the sunny revolution!