Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. A Review | Author: All-Purpose Guru

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology / by Eric Brende (Harper Perennial, 2005) Paperback, 234 p. ISBN 9780060570057

In Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology, Eric Brende challenges the common idea that Americans must somehow keep up with the latest technology in order to lead a good life. He became a critic of modern technology while a student at M.I.T. and later met a man he took to be Amish during a bus trip. As it turns out, his community restricted technology even more than the Amish.

Brende decided to move with his new wife to join this community for eighteen months to see what it was like. As the title indicates, he came to the conclusion that the latest technology does not help us progress to a better life; we are better off without most of it. He discovered that the physical activity necessary to grow food and other requirements of that lifestyle increased his physical fitness. He noticed that the community had few projects that any one individual could complete alone, so neighbors helped each other out.

The physical work itself allowed his mind to think about many things and to converse with other people about anything at all. When the work was finished and people relaxed, they spent time with their families and neighbors, not with their new technology gadgets. And yet, at the end of the eighteen months, he and his wife left the colony and rejoined the larger society.

Although Brende wrote in order to persuade his readers to wean themselves from following after the latest technology, his tone never becomes strident or preachy. He doesn't condemn new technology gadgets out of hand. Instead, he lets us in on his own inner dialog about the proper place of technology. In this way, he encourages readers to ask their own questions:

Do our machines and new technology gadgets wind up making more work for us than they save? Which ones bring people together and which ones actually isolate their users? Which ones encourage people to forget useful skills (for instance, nuking prepared meals in microwave ovens instead of learning to cook tastier and healthier food)? As we come to learn the latest technology have we lost our understanding of nature? With machines doing more and more work, does that reduce people to unskilled labor? Does the wide variety of available electronic entertainment really fill the void left by not interacting as much with other people? And where on earth will we put all the stuff as we run out of both space in our homes and landfill space?

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology will probably not persuade many, or even anyone, to turn their backs on progress or the latest technology, but it can persuade people to rethink what, exactly, progress actually is. The All-Purpose Guru Alert chooses well-written and thoughtful books and features one title per day at bargain prices. Be sure to stop by often.

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