BETTER OFF by Eric Brende


Pulling the Plug on Technology
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By paring back his need for modern technology in the manner of Scott and Helen Nearing or E.F. Schumacher, debut author Brende reclaims his life from machines.

Machines were getting on his nerves, he writes: complex, fuel-consuming entities with demands of their own, they were depriving him of physical activity and robbing him of time with his family. In a stroke of fortune, Brende made contact with an agricultural community he neither names nor locates that lived without modern technology such as electricity and motors. The members were a mix of Amish, Mennonite, and ordinary folk—“Minimites,” Brende plugs them, “in honor of both their Mennonite noncomformity and their current predilection to gain a maximum of ends from a minimum of technological means.” Although initially nervous, the author soon learned that a deft use of wits did as well as scads of modern technology (at least at the level of activity he was operating on) and that the spirit of cooperation and sharing in the community lightened every task. The work was hard, but the pace was slow, and “in being slower, time is more capacious.” Brende adequately introduces his neighbors, takes part in the requisite barn-raising, and keeps an eye peeled to the community’s cultureways, yet what really interests him—and what he describes with his greatest flow and ease—is how little technology he can use and live a fulfilled life. He spent 18 months in the community, mostly as a research project for his M.I.T. thesis, and is now refining his vision in the Midwest, where he makes soap and drives a rickshaw. Primitive technology often better serves both the task and the soul, he asserts: “to cater to an inanimate object’s needs is one thing; to aid and abet in our own replacement is another.”

Well-tested ammunition for the slower-is-better, less-is-more school of thought.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-057004-0
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2004


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