Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I finished Better Off-Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende over the weekend. He makes a good case for minimizing technology. Here it is-an interpretation based on my example, not his.

Let us consider the Automatic Dishwasher as our objective study of a labor-saving and time-saving piece of technology. Is it really all it claims?

First, by having the dishwasher wash the dishes, you are depriving your body (mostly your forearms) of exercise. Secondly, washing dishes by hand is truly a two-person job: one to wash, one to dry and put up. By the time one person can rinse, load and unload and put up a load of dishes, most two people can have done the same dishes by hand. But you say-ah ha!!! TWO PEOPLE! Oh yes, the two people will talk and discuss and build their relationship or solve a problem, and the time will pass without them even realizing how much "work" they've done.

Finally, the dishwasher costs money to run, has an initial cost, and replacement parts are expensive: all this goes into each load of dishes.

This is not to say we are tossing our dishwasher. We have gone without before-but unfortunately we didn't take advantage of the opportunity it provided in sharing the work.

But this is the basic case Mr. Brende makes; that a lot (especially more advanced) of technology has a large initial cost, a maintenance cost, an operating cost, doesn't save as much time as you think, detracts from physical well-being (i.e. exercise) and detracts from social interaction.

I have made my livlihood via technology: in industry as a patent agent and more recently as a book publisher. There is no way I could do what I do at Requiem Press without advanced techonology...and yet this computer takes more of my time each day than it needs to-and it is solitary work. Technology can be a seductive mistress.

Mr. Brende makes mention of a tribe in Africa whose members work only 2-3 hours per week to live (gathering nuts and berries). The rest is leisure time. The trend is there: the more (and more advanced) technology that a society has, the more the members have to work to maintain it. There is a balance between being enslaved by our desire for comfort provided by technology and the nut and berry gatherers mentioned hereinbefore. Each of us must decide that balance for ourselves ...

Oremus pro invicem!

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