Tag Archives: simpler life

A Simpler Life

There’s a whole lot of information out there about how to lead a simpler life, but most of it is decidedly understated and anecdotal, from individuals who’ve found a simpler way, found reward in that, and then decided to share their experience via a modest blog (like this one) or website.  Few ads are evident on these sites.  Compare this with say, one of the thousands of sites on “How to Invest in…”or that most popular of search targets, “How to Make Money Online!”  These sites are stout, multi-layered destinations with guest bloggers, vast archives, and scads of ads.  Go figure.

That’s the thing about a simpler lifestyle.  There’s no money in it.  It essentially comes about as a result of a less vigorous pursuit of the omnipotent dollar.  And therefore the commercial interests which drive the digital revolution are not so drawn to probing the pecuniary habits of simpler lifestylers.  People seeking a less complicated life are not those sleeping outside Apple stores in fevered anticipation of holding the latest gadget in their hands.

No, you’re pretty much on your own in pursuing a simpler life.  Neither the media, nor corporate power, nor for that matter most of the cultural industries will be there to support you.  But technology will be, at least parts of it will be.  It’s perfectly possible to embrace a simpler way of life and cherry-pick the best of modern technology, the means which enhance but do not encumber our lives, leaving the rest of the tech clamor behind.

There are two basic ways to simplify your life that are immediately accessible to us all: 1) possess less stuff, and 2) disconnect regularly.

images-4The first is to practice anti-consumerism.  Buy something only when you truly need it, i.e. when you will use it regularly, and it either provides a new and valuable service to you, or replaces a valued item which no longer works for you.  Some folks suggest that if you haven’t used something in the last six months, including an article of clothing, you don’t need it.  This seems a tad severe even to me, but if you haven’t used it in the last year, I’d have to agree.  Dispose of it.

Do not possess more than one of the same basic item or tool.  Do not hoard; this is to live in fear.  Do not keep things you don’t need because they possess sentimental value (the way to avoid this is to not keep things you don’t need long enough for them to accrue sentimental value).  Shop in second-hand stores; this is not only less expensive; it prevents the need for a new thing to be manufactured, thus adding to the global accumulation of stuff.  Unless your home is able to expand concomitant with each new acquired item, more stuff equals more stress; it’s that simple.

There are two axioms to bear in mind when contemplating the growing buildup of stuff in your life (and everyone should watch George Carlin’s marvelous routine on us and our stuff; it’s here on Youtube).  One of these adages you’ve already heard, but the second, it seems to me, many of us don’t quite grasp while we’re still above ground:  1) you can’t take it with you, and 2) nobody wants it when you’re gone.  Space, like time, is of ever-augmenting value in today’s world, and very few of us wish to allot precious space to accommodate the material goods of others, even if those others were loved ones.

The second path to a simpler life—disconnecting regularly—is where we can discriminate among the onslaught of new technology coming at us in waves.  The internet?  Absolutely, for the information alone.  A camera?  If it releases your muse, go for it.  A portable computer?  Sure; it’s great to be able to sit on the couch and send an email, but do you really need to take it with you when you leave the house?  For my money, no one needs to be personally connected to the internet at every moment.  In fact, it’s not good for you.

As I’ve gone on about elsewhere in this blog, the stress of accelerated change comes in large part because we fall prey to the craving to connect immediately, not later.  No one needs to be always abreast of the latest news, whether it’s international, national, local, or from your friends.  Very few messages merit an instant reply.  Control the stress in your life by controlling the pace of your communication.  And for those who experience anxiety when they forget their smart phone at home, I have unfortunate news for you.  You’re experiencing an addiction, like any other.  You need to know this, but not instantly.

Unplug.  Get outside.  Go for a walk at least once a day, while the sun’s up.  It’s proven to be good for your mental as well as your physical health.  And don’t take your phone.

 

 

Cybernetics

Chop Wood, Carry Water, Write Blog

I was ten years old when my father got his first calculator.  It was 1963, and a few years before he had left his position as City Engineer in the just-barely-big-enough-to-be-called-a-city I grew up in to start his own engineering and surveying business.  The calculator was the size of, say, a slightly elongated 300-page hard cover book, but the thing was, it could do trigonometry, instantly calculating sines, cosines and tangents (and therefore distances) that my father had been laboriously calculating ‘by hand’ until then.

This was significant for my family because my father worked long hours in those days.  He left early, came home for lunch, kicked back in his recliner for a brief nap, returned to work, showed up again just ahead of dinner, and then usually headed back to the office after dinner for a few more hours of mental toil.  It was particularly hard on my mother, who was left to contain myself and my two brothers.  The arrival of the calculator, my mother announced, meant that we would all see more of my father.

It didn’t happen.  Any let-up in my father’s work schedule came only years later as the result of a growing business, and the hiring of staff.

The term I remember from the 70s for this same naive hope was ‘cybernetics.’  It’s a word that seems to have meant many different things to many different people over the years, but the meaning I recall touted was one which suggested that, given the incredible speed and efficiency evolving via modern science and technology, we would all soon be enjoying far greater amounts of leisure time.

It didn’t happen.  You may have noticed.

What a gloriously well-intentioned crock it all was, and another lesson in how poorly we predict the future direction and impact of new technology.  (No one, for instance, foresaw the rise of social media ten years ago.)  We know now that technology—especially digital technology—doesn’t save us time, it simply accelerates our lives.  It simply closes the gap between what we can do now, and what would have previously taken us longer to get to.  With an instant calculation, or instant information, or instant communication, that task which we would have formerly had overnight, or maybe two weeks to anticipate and ponder, is immediately upon us, demanding the doing.

The fact is, if you’d like more time on your hands, get off the grid.  Escape electronic technology altogether.  Chop wood, carry water, save time.

Until recently, the place on Galiano Island where I write this was off the communications grid.  No phone (no cell phone coverage), no TV, no internet.  Electricity and radio, that was it.  To come here was to immerse yourself in the pre-digital age.  That experience became the inspiration for this blog.

Thus, this the inaugural post for a blog intended to be about our changing times, about the accelerated change we are all living with on a daily basis.  Ken Auletta, who writes a column on communications technology for The New Yorker, has said that we are now experiencing a greater degree of change than at any time in our entire history, and I suspect he’s dead right about that.  (It took radio 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million; the internet just four.)  And I further think that this condition isn’t given quite enough attention these days.

Make no mistake, the digital revolution has many, many positives.  The often-mentioned benefits of social media for the Arab Spring protestors should suffice as an example.  But so too do we have the catch phrase ‘digital Darwinism’ accompanying the ‘e revolution,’ as if to say that any who are not gleefully on board the digital train are doomed to an embarrassed extinction.  These purveyors of doom employ the word ‘exciting’ more often than any other in discussing the future of the revolution underway (Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, tells us, grinning, that we are still in “day one” of the revolution.), but let us make no mistake about this fact either: the burgeoning ubiquity of digital technology is driven by money.  Those who wax so enthusiastic about all of us participating in the social media game are themselves coaching from the sidelines.  They want to win alright, but the winner’s payoff for them is exactly as Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenplay for The Social Network would have us note: “Baby, you’re a rich man too.”  Those of us out there battling on the field are playing for very different stakes.  And for those on the field, the game is not without injury.

It’s not fashionable to say so, but the digital revolution warrants our skepticism, a critical rather than an eager or unthinking reception, and this blog is intended to facilitate exactly that.

The blogger's woodpile.
The blogger’s woodpile.