Better Off

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology
© 2004 Eric Bende
256 pages

When Eric and Mary Bendes tied the knot, they chose to kick off their marriage in the traditional fashion: struggling together to make a go of a family farm.  Mary had romantic notions about homesteading, and Eric serious misgivings about the role of technology in human affairs. Together they moved to a quasi-Amish community not attached to a particular religious order, but composed of those too freethinking for the Old Order and too traditional for the modernized Mennonites.  Their mission: to spend a year living in technological simplicity, to discern how much gadgetry was really needed for a flourishing human life. 

Better Off tells the story of the Bendes’ adapting to life  within the community, both socially and technologically. Eric and Mary are outsiders, but so are a fair number of their new neighbors. They are surrounded by those who, like the authors of The Plain Reader, have yearned for a more meaningful life and found it in a community that minimizes those parts of modernity which are most disruptive.  Because it is a farming community,  tending to the family homestead is the major use of time. While this does involve manual labor, often the ‘work’ aspect – the monotony – is completely mitigated by the social aspect.  The members of this community rarely pay strict social visits: instead, relationships are established, built up, and maintained by working together.  Although Eric and Mary both  have their individual   jobs around the house, both are necessary to keep the farm itself functioning:  because they are operating without technology,  more work has to be done by hand. The lack of refrigeration, for instance , means that goods must be canned. The Bendes adopt fairly quickly to their new tech-lite life, aided by generous neighbors who find their new companions to be earnest in their intentions, quick to learn, and hard-working. Bendes is initially surprised to learn that the Minimites are not technophobes; they do not ban any form of mechanical aide on principle, but scrutinize an object’s effects on society before incorporating it.  Tool use is heavy,  but all require human  presence.  The lack of electricity in their community doesn’t require life to be miserable: it just prevents mindless automation.

I read this book years ago (2015) and have been mulling it over once again — not that I’m tempted to give up technology,   but because society is steadily increasing its own digitalization, and in physical ways so that our homes and automobiles  are increasingly plugged in. Mechanical assistance,  which at least required some human role is now being replaced by total automation. There are dangers there —   more points of failure as things increase in complexity,  the detachment of people from their own lives, the constant generation and possible manipulation of information by smart devices — but most  embrace things without a thought. It’s one thing to become wholly dependent on something outside of ourselves, but we should at least be conscious of it — and wary, in some cases.  

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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15 Responses to Better Off

  1. R. T. says:

    Interesting …. your thoughts remind of this different view of a world without technology …

  2. mudpuddle says:

    interesting that portions of the population are splintering themselves off from the techie paradise… may be they'll be in the majority after NG times (no gas)… i keep thinking of Brin's excellent book, \”The Postman\”…

  3. Marian H says:

    Just gotta say, I love that cover design! This lifestyle sounds a bit too extreme for me, but the motivation behind it is admirable.I am definitely concerned by the whole \”smart home\” trend that's going on. People seem OK with Amazon listening to their daily conversations via Alexa. They don't mind (or don't see) the security risks associated with having everything accessible from their phone. Then there's the vulnerability, like you mention, that everything – including people's emotional state – becomes hinged on the internet and extreme, instant interconnectivity.It's weird, fun, and somewhat scary times to be living in.

  4. Stephen says:

    That one was quite the read!

  5. Stephen says:

    If that happens. We seem to be squeezing more and more life out of what's out there, but given the rocketing car ownership in India and China, who knows..

  6. Stephen says:

    I can get a little of the appeal — the \”Ooh, I'm living in the future!\” feel of talking to machines and having them respond — but like you, have serious privacy concerns. Sending music to my bluetooth speaker via my phone is cool enough for me.

  7. CyberKitten says:

    Despite my friends calling me a Luddite (as if that's a pejorative term!) I'm certainly not a technophobe. However, I'm not so in love with it that I'll buy anything that comes off the production line and I'm very sceptical about all the promises made about it. I too have great security concerns about 'the Internet of things' and simply won't have it in my house. You see that's the thing. We don't HAVE to follow this technological trend here. We can chose what we use and what we reject. All we need to do is know enough about the tech to make sensible, rational choices.

  8. R. T. says:

    I guess there were sequels … have you read them?FYI … I had to reinvent blog with new address to escape certain invading trolls and infectious dingbats …. here is latest metamorphosis: wishes,Tim

  9. Brian Joseph says:

    Stories of folks living without technology are actually fairly old. As society becomes more and more technology based these tales are becoming more pronounced. I am generally positive about progress and technology, however I also recognize the downsides and I think that it is something important that we examine and gave the negatives. Accounts such as this help us to understand these negatives.

  10. Sometimes I wish I could do this too. But then it would be awfully hard to write my book, do any research for additional sources, or harass Dan Jones on Twitter and Facebook, so…

  11. Stephen says:

    I've read \”One Year After\”, but that was it. Sorry to hear about your troubles! I will update my link.

  12. Stephen says:

    On the other hand, a shade of a tech holiday might make it easier to concentrate on the writing and reading! At university I used to isolate myself in a corner of the library to work on my term papers. I knew if I tried researching in my room I'd wind up watching cat videos or modding Civ3…

  13. Stephen says:

    I'm hopeful in many respects, but I'm also concerned about how technology is empowering a pervasive state of surveillance — both by governments and private entities.

  14. Stephen says:

    It's the knowledge that's hard to by. As soon as we get a handle on one piece of tech, there's four more things to think about!

  15. That's true. I could always resort to using a hard copy of a Latin dictionary I suppose. But that just sounds terrible.

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