April 16, 2012


Your eyes may glaze over to hear me comment that the Internet- the ability to connect with people across the nation and across the globe to instantly share information, ideas and stories- has changed the way we live. For it is so obvious, at least to those who have lived through the transition.

For better or for worse, more information than our minds can fathom is now available to us at our fingertips (the discussion of the relative value of this information compared to the value of knowledge and experience can be saved for later). Physical distance and its cousins transportation and fuel, factors that since the dawn of humanity have been a driving force in the development of culture, towns, economies and industry, have become irrelevant in the modern world of communication.

At the Village Helix learn to work with fiber sheep and how to transform wool

But what is the point of communication, of sharing, if not to convey important information that enables people to make choices so that their lives can be more meaningful, rewarding, effective, and prosperous? In other words, we communicate--in all its various forms-- in an attempt to meet our needs.

Currently, our culture and society are at an edge, an edge beyond which lies a world and a way of life foreign to those of us who have grown up with an abundance of cheap fossil fuels--that is to say, all of us. Those who are willing to peer over this edge, created by the end of an age of inexpensive energy, are able to see changes so fundamental and therefore so pervasive in the way we will need to live in the future that it is difficult for even the most insightful minds to imagine a path that will help us safely transition from the world we know into this new frontier.

So while it may be obvious that the Internet has changed the way we live, can it help us live through the coming changes?

The answer may well be a resounding "Yes" but only if we make the conscious choice to use the Internet to help us.

Or watch woody biomass be converted to gaseous fuel

Malcom Gladwell proposed in his 2010 article Small Change: The Revolution Shall Not be Tweeted that "social media can't provide what social change has always required"- strong, personal ties to a community of people (often small) working towards a common goal. I am reminded of Margaret Mead's now famous advice: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has." Not even Facebook or the iPhone, or the Internet as a whole, can change this reality. In fact, Mark Zuckerburg, Steve Jobs and the teams they worked with to bring these tools for social media to life are examples of how it only takes a few people, with heart and vision, to significantly change the way we live in this world.

So, while we cannot get around the fact that if we want any hope of transitioning smoothly into this next phase of human history some of us will have to step together and then forward to set the destination and navigate the course through this unknown territory, we do have choice in what tools we use to make the process as successful as possible.

Or make fresh cheese with milk from Windward's dairy goats

The Internet, social media, online forums, blogs- these are all remarkable aids to help people find others, across town and across the nation, with shared interests, values and goals. But given the very real challenges of providing food, fuel, and fiber in a manner that can be sustained, finding each other in cyberspace and communicating through our screens is not sufficient to create the strong personal ties that will enable us to meaningfully and effectively guide ourselves through the transition into a post-fossil fuel world.

We need to be grounded. In real time, in real places, with real people. We need to talk face to face, person to person. To make material and practical change, we need to immerse ourselves in the materials and practices that will help us make the transition. We need to learn from each other, we need to teach each other. We need come together to create on a regular basis.

A view of Mt. Hood from the Windward campground

So this summer, Windward is hosting the first annual Village Helix , an event intended to connect and ground the various communities (virtual and otherwise) that have developed around the multiple facets of what we need in order to transition into a culture and way of life that can truly be sustained. Workshops focusing on the art and craft, science and spirituality necessary to create sustainability at the village scale will fill a family friendly weekend in our 40 acre campground.

The Village Helix is an outgrowth of Windward's desire to make the best use of the Internet's capacity to help us find each other and share ideas. For without this step of grounding ourselves in real places, together, year after year, we lose much of the potential the virtual connection holds. And the task of evolving and adapting our way of life so that we can not just survive but also thrive as we venture forward into this new frontier is one that demands our best efforts (because, quite frankly, failure is not a very attractive option).