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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Are we Better Off?

I was reminded of a book I finished a few weeks back, 'Better Off' by Eric Brende after getting into a minor car accident today. Thankfully, no one was injured and I can go about the delightful task of talking with the insurance company, getting an estimate to fix some body damage and worry about finding a replacement minivan while our only car is in the shop. Cars are such a pain in the ass. Do the benefits of owning a car override the demands they place on us? 'Better Off' examines this question in regards to technology at large. The author and his wife spent 18 months in a predominately Amish community. They went back to square one (aka no running water, refrigeration or electricity of any kind) to see how much technology benefits us as a society and how much technology enslaves us. After about 12 months, they did finally give up their car and resort to horse and buggy travel. Today, they live simply in a neighborhood of St. Louis within a short walk of most of their needs. They are also a large, Catholic homeschooling family by the way. While they did slowly introduce technology back into their lives, they do not work long hours to afford the latest gadgets or spend countless hours fixing or fussing with complicated "time savers." The most reveling parts of the book illustrate the Amish saying that "many hands makes work light"-not fancy do-dads. Sure, the Amish have to grow, weed, harvest the majority of their food by hand or true horsepower but the work is divided among large families and close knit communities. Time spent in manual labor should not be abhorred; it is meaningful, and bears good fruit, both figuratively and literally. We don't really gain much when we turn away from manual labor to sit in a office all day to make money to pay for our McMansion on a .78 acre lot that we pay someone to mow. Or maybe you mow it yourself on the riding mower that will cost you $100 a month for the next three years from Sears. And how much do you pay for gas and maintenance on that thing?
"Who is really being brave, radical, or extreme? Is it I? Or is it the people who marvel at me? The changes I have made to live less technologically are easy compared with the contortions most people go through to maintain technology. Their beloved machinery does not so much save labor as separate it out in time and place and thereby make it harder to obtain-physical exercise in the gym, moneymaking in the office, education in the school, and "quality time" with the family in the national park. Rather than an integrated whole, life become a temporal and geographical obstacle course."
Better Off, P.S. Chapter, pg 2

I'm not suggesting we all become Amish, and neither is Brende. However, I do recommend reading Better Off and examining in what areas of your life technology is a burden rather than a benefit. You may gain some freedom and a few cents in the process. And if your newfound knowledge gives you more time with your family, bonus.


Brian L. said...

I agree Kelly. Brende's book was great food for thought.

I'm count my blessings that I live in an "old" suburb of Philly where I can catch a train to work, and walk with my wife and son to the park, library or grocery store.

Great blog by the way. I've been lurking for a few months after finding you through LambDragon.