When Technology Fails – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

When Technology Fails, Revised and Expanded
A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency
by Matthew Stein
Foreword by Richard Heinberg
Published by: Chelsea Green Publishing 2008
516 pages paperback with black and white illustrations throughout
8 1/2” x 11”
ISBN: 9781933392455

WTF book_webThere’s never been a better time to “be prepared.” Matthew Stein’s comprehensive primer on sustainable living skills—from food and water to shelter and energy to first-aid and crisis-management skills—prepares you to embark on the path toward sustainability. But unlike any other book, Stein not only shows you how to live “green” in seemingly stable times, but to live in the face of potential disasters, lasting days or years, coming in the form of social upheaval, economic meltdown, or environmental catastrophe.

“When Technology Fails” covers the gamut. You’ll learn how to start a fire and keep warm if you’ve been left temporarily homeless, as well as the basics of installing a renewable energy system for your home or business. You’ll learn how to find and sterilize water in the face of utility failure, as well as practical information for dealing with water-quality issues even when the public tap water is still flowing. You’ll learn alternative techniques for healing equally suited to an era of profit-driven malpractice as to situations of social calamity. Each chapter (a survey of the risks to the status quo; supplies and preparation for short- and long-term emergencies; emergency measures for survival; water; food; shelter; clothing; first aid, low-tech medicine, and healing; energy, heat, and power; metalworking; utensils and storage; low-tech chemistry; and engineering, machines, and materials) offers the same approach, describing skills for self-reliance in good times and bad.

Fully revised and expanded—the first edition was written pre-9/11 and pre-Katrina, when few Americans took the risk of social disruption seriously— “When Technology Fails” ends on a positive, proactive note with a new chapter on "Making the Shift to Sustainability," which offers practical suggestions for changing our world on personal, community and global levels.

Mat Stein is an environmentalist, bestselling author, MIT trained engineer, and green builder. As an inspiring speaker and visionary thinker, he is dedicated to helping people wake up and unite to shift our collective course from collapse to global renaissance. On the practical side of things, as an expert at self-reliance, emergency prep, and survival, his writings and work help people prepare to weather the storms we are facing due to continuing climate change and ecological decline, coupled with a fossil fuel based economy that has recently passed the peak in world oil production and is struggling to cope with …

On Amazon it says: Provides information that will help the average person prepare for the uncontrollable forces and events that will affects everyone on the planet within the next 20 years. A user friendly 'bible' in the tradition of the Whole Earth Catalogue, this book is the first to offer basic instructions and recommended resources for the wide range of skills and technologies necessary for self-reliant living and achieving mastery of all kinds of emergency conditions. A directory of resources and an instructional guide to sustainable technology required in an increasingly unstable world, it outlines survival strategies for dealing with changes that affect food, water, shelter, energy, health, communications, and essential goods and services.

Well, so far for the material from the publishers and the author, now allow me to make my comments and give you my take on this book.

I really hate to be negative any book knowing how much effort and heartache even goes into writing but there are times when it is absolute necessary, and this is one of those. That is what reviewers and critics are, after all, for.

This book is a bit – actually more than just a bit and very much – like the pre-2000 survival manuals and, as many scenarios envisaged then are more or less history and are never going to happen one should not waste time and effort on them. The modern threats are different and require a different response and mindset.

When it comes to technology, as in our modern infrastructure, failing which it inevitably will at some time, we do not just need to prepare for such an even and its aftermath but to take steps to make ourselves as independent as possible from it, that is to say from technology and the system.

We must not just prep for the event of a failure of technology and the infrastructure that is so very much dependent on it. We must actively, as individuals, families and countries, reduce our dependence and over-dependence on technology.

Our technology failing and mayhem resulting is more or less inevitable seeing our reliance and dependence on it in every part of our daily life, from energy supply, water supply, to keeping our shops stocked and everything in between, including our communications.

“Technology will fail, you can count on it”, it says in the foreword of the book and there is little that one can add to that and argue with, as, alas, it is very true indeed and, as we rely on it for almost anything and everything it is then when the proverbial hits the fan – and that will leave the unprepared in the lurch or up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

The first edition of this book was written and came out before the year 2000 and hence the Millennium Bug idea – so to speak – and also much of the style and contents of this book being in the style of most of the so-called survival manuals of that time and era.

The title of the book led me to believe that this book would be different from other pre- and post-Y2K survival books and would seriously look at life after a breakdown on technology but, in the maim, this book is but a rehash of those gone before with very little difference.

To a great extent this book is very much like those “standard” American survival books we have seen with a little bit though being in the vein of John Seymour's book, but only with just a little bit. The information that is presented in the books by John Seymour and also in “The Survival Handbook” by Michael Allaby, which was co-authored by John Seymour, is what really will be needed in the aftermath of and preparation before the failure of technology and not Stone Age skills. The wheel has already been invented.

There are some very important points in the book, and they are the same that I have made and am making in my writings time and again, about how everything today is linked to and by technology powered by electricity and any breakdown of this grid will cause serious trouble for our day-to-day lives.

However, when technology fails, as it will, we will need the skills and tools of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and maybe, in some cases even those of the 1700s but no Stone Age skills. Learning those would be reinventing the wheel and a total waste of time.

When our technology and everything connected to it and by it fails – as it inevitably is going to do some day, “permanently” even – and even when most of society as a whole fails we will not be returning to the Stone Age but we will start again with an 18th/19th century technology. We know how to do it and enough scrap will be around to do it. Much will be more modern technology even than those eras mentioned and that should have been the starting point for this book.

While this book, most certainly, has many good points and chapters in it and the author correctly perceives and communicates that one of the, if not indeed the, main threat and greatest of all to our future is the eco-catastrophe the continual return, in a way, to almost prehistorical skills spoils it to a great degree.

The other day I came across a book in German and from Germany – self-published as a PDF – on the same matter of continuing life after the failure of technology and infrastructure (and collapse of society) that is fairly short, precise and to the point without assuming the need for reinventing the wheel.

Because of those listed shortcomings I cannot really recommend this book and can only give it 2 out of 5, and this especially as the title is, in actual fact, very misleading, leading any potential reader to believe that he will be served something different to the old survival manuals that most of us have seen already, but this is not the case, and also to actually deal with the reality after an event of failure of our modern technology and that is that we will not start from Stone Age level as we have already got the knowledge and such to hand though today we lack many of the manual skills that will, after such an event, be required again.

Stone Age skills and those of the American Indians and others are all good and fine when what is stranded in the wilderness – far off any possibility of any search party reaching one – be this after a shipwreck, a plane crash or whatever, and anyone trekking out into the wilderness should certainly know some of them but in the modern scenario of technology and therefore infrastructure failing other skills are needed and thus any that have no reason for being in a book purporting to be on that matter should have never been included nor mentioned.

While Mat Stein's book “When Technology Fails” does have some good parts the fact that it is – basically – a rehash of the hundreds, literally, of TEOTWAKI manuals that we have seen since around the late 1980s makes it one that I can give but a very low rating. I must say that from the title I had, as said before, expected something more relevant and properly tuned to reality than this.

Rating: 1 of 5 (and that is being generous)

© 2014