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