... issues and tissues with a touch of the spicy from the spirit hag ...
... could modern man survive ?
Published on September 2, 2004 By mignuna In Pure Technology

Yale graduate Eric Brende changed his life forever a decade ago when en route to Kansas from Boston via bus, he met a gentleman in a wide-brimmed black hat who said he lived in a “Mennonite-style’ community.

After the man explained this meant that his community existed without the use of motors or motorized technology, (no electricity, no telephones, no motor vehicles, etc), Brende was intrigued, and found himself proposing that he live with the community for 18 months to research ‘the minimal level of technology necessary for humans to enjoy a balanced lifestyle’.

The group agreed, and Brende and his new bride Mary moved into the tightly-knit village deep in Americas’ ‘heartland’, occupying a small home without electricity, lighting, heating or running water.

Quoted directly from Brands’ subsequently published research comes the following review by journalist Marilyn Gardner:

After several weeks, their waistlines shrink, their muscles grow firm, and their satisfaction increases. "I was beginning to see evidence that a world without modern technology need not be any harder," Brende explains. "It might well be easier. And more fun."

As Brende describes their unusual adventure in "Better Off," a giddy enthusiasm colors their early days. He masters the art of cutting the grass with a push mower, and his wife claims that the beat of a treadle sewing machine makes her more alert. Both insist that operating a crank-handled washing machine is "really rather cathartic."

They even savor the pleasure of canning food together. When chores are done, Brende reads "The Education of Henry Adams" by the flicker of a kerosene lamp.

Ah, the good old days.

Yet gradually, his gee-whiz tone is tempered. Weary of the sullenness that besets him after a string of gray wintry days, he concedes that "a standard 60-watt incandescent light bulb might have helped."

And then there's the biggest test of all - threshing season. "Threshing wheat without modern equipment had shocked me out of my senses," he writes. So punishing is the work under a scorching sun that he collapses in bed for three days. When he asks, "Was there a need for more machinery?" a reader can only nod a silent yes.

Still, as the Brendes' grow their own food in the garden, join forces with neighbors for collective tasks, and await the birth of their first child, friendships develop.

But here, as everywhere, domestic squabbles and tensions develop. On one stifling summer day, as the men gather for a barn-raising, the women crowd into steamy kitchens to prepare food for the group. One weary wife probably echoes the sentiments of others when she shouts to her husband, "You'd better never have a work bee in this weather again. So much cooking in this heat."

All of which underscores Brende's original question: Is life without all the technological advances we take for granted - in this case air-conditioning - really better?. Brende is correct when he argues that "a modern automatic machine is no mere inert tool. It gobbles up energy; it demands care and maintenance".

"Modern tools not only serves, they must be served." Brende states. He also makes a persuasive case for simplicity: "By speeding through life with technology, you reduce what any given moment can hold. By slowing down, you expand it."

Although the Brendes’ returned to the wired world after a year in the community they dub the "Minimites," their noble experiment continues to shape their new lives in St. Louis.

Eric is a soapmaker and rickshaw driver, and Mary home schools their three children. They shun television, computers, and videos, and drive only when they must. In the evening, they still sometimes turn on a kerosene lamp and read by the fire. "By switching off the electric light," Brende notes, "I think we see a bit better."

The Brendes' experience may stimulate readers to think about the role modern technology plays in their own lives. But rather than inspire them to renounce it, the book is more likely to produce a surge of gratitude for the warm glow of a lamp and the convenience of appliances that free them for other activities.

Most of us will probably always feel "better off" with the power switched on
.


* Note: Marilyn Gardner writes about family issues for “the Monitor”. Full article here: Link



Comments
on Sep 02, 2004
Very interesting article, Mignuna.
on Sep 03, 2004
thanks so much, raven . i think they handled it much better than i would have !.

vanessa/mig XX
on Sep 05, 2004
A very interesting article.

Both my parents grew up as farm kids in rural Alberta, Canada, and indeed lived in the era of kerosene lamps. They lacked heat and electrical lights during their early years, bathing was done in a steel tub heated with water from a wood stove. The outhouse was alive and well-fed - even when the mercury was hitting 40 below. During "canning season" all the women were busy 24/7 in hot, stifling, kitchens.

While there was more of a sense of community at that time in that location, both assure me that it was lots of hard work. "Farm kids" (as the "townies" called them) had about two hours of chores daily - thankfully, there was no television to distract them. Both of them, having lived pretty close to a "Mennonite life", are both pretty happy with the modern conveniences - even though these conveniences must be maintained, it beats the alternative - by a country mile - in their view.

JW

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