I just spent nine hours in front of my computer. Again. I took only three short breaks and spent maybe ten minutes outside. I even ate lunch at my desk.
I know this isn’t healthy, but still, it happens much too often. Maybe it does for you too. And many of our kids are also spending hours every day in front of a computer.
This is not how I spent my days when I was in my 20’s or 30’s. Even when I was working in an office, I didn’t spend nine hours nonstop bent over my ledgers or in front of a typewriter. I was up and down from my desk all day long, doing other tasks. I physically went to a file room, or to the copier, or to deliver a message or distribute the mail. I usually took a walk and ate my lunch outside.
Throughout my lifetime, technology has been celebrated as the revolution that would improve the world. “Better Living Through Science” and so on. And I certainly use technology. I don’t publish my blog on parchment, after all, and I don’t keep cool in the summer heat by means of a servant wielding a palm branch.
But as we keep breaking boundaries and changing the way things work, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that some of the best (and healthiest) solutions are low tech.
Let me use an urban myth to illustrate.
It was the 1960s, and NASA was having trouble coming up with a reliable replacement for the pen. You see, in space, with no gravity and no air pressure, pens don’t work very well, which is bad news for astronauts who need to keep a log or do some calculations. Millions of dollars went into research to develop a zero-gravity pen.
The Russians, faced with the same problem in their space program, used a pencil.
This legend may have been fabricated, but what’s the real lesson? Sometimes the best solution is the easy one. Sometimes we complicate the problem by looking for a new, high-tech solution. I know that when I get busy using my smartphone to look up yet another piece of trivia (simply because I can), I forget to pay attention and think. Often we fall for the newfangled, designed-for-a-problem-we-didn’t-really-have gadget, instead of simply using the tools that worked in the past and still work just fine.
I’m reminded of people my age or older who swear they can’t get by without their something-or-other (fill in the blank with your favorite piece of modern technology), even though they lived the majority of their lives perfectly well in the pre-smart house, pre-Internet world. It’s a mystery how we managed to live productive, independent lives in the “olden days.”
I’m thankful for many modern technologies, but there are always consequences to the desire for ever more speed and convenience. Those consequences include uncounted tons of plastic waste and toxic electronic waste. They include dissatisfaction with last year’s technology and the constant pursuit of the next big thing. They include a skewed work/home balance and an unhealthy tendency to substitute virtual activity for physical activity in the real world. And they include a lot less connection and intimacy with families, friends, neighbors, and communities.
Is it possible in this modern world to live with less technology? Maybe what we really need is a time machine.
5 Low(er) Tech Activities
1. Go camping.
Even if I can’t make it to the closest national park, I can still:
• cook and/or eat outside (or simply enjoy a cup of coffee on the porch)
• hike to a local beauty spot
• watch and listen for birds and other wildlife
• observe a sunset
2. Use human power.
Before machines pervaded our lives, most of us were in better shape physically. I don’t need a gym to:
• leave the car in the garage and walk or bike to my destination
• skip the elevator and use the stairs
• pull weeds, sweep the sidewalk, plant a tree or some seeds
• wash the car or the windows with a bucket of suds and some elbow grease
• forgo appliances that chop vegetables, shred cheese, or knead dough
3. Play without electricity.
For entertainment, I can turn off the computer and put away my phone while I:
• break out the board games or crossword puzzles
• look through old photo albums
• get creative with my grandsons and their millions of pieces of Lego
• knit, crochet, draw, paint, play an instrument, etc.
• read a book
4. Reduce waste and emissions.
Our parents and grandparents learned to be comfortable and meet their needs without a lot of technologies we take for granted. Here are lower-tech replacements:
• hang clothes to dry
• use an electric fan rather than air conditioning
• quit bottled water and soda and make sun tea instead
• take advantage of daylight by sleeping and rising earlier
• ditch paper towels and napkins and buy or make reusable alternatives
5. Make connections low tech.
Telephones have been around for a long time, but with tangling cords and expensive long-distance costs, I don’t know anyone who spent hours on the phone every day. Why not:
• remove alerts and check email, phone messages, and social media less often
• ban phones at mealtime and share a conversation
• meet the neighbors or join a community group
• handwrite a letter
• snuggle with a partner, pet, or child (or all of them at once)
A few days spent in a lifestyle that was normal 40 or 50 years ago really isn’t the hardship we might imagine. In fact, we might enjoy a slower, less mechanized way of life. Bring on the time machine!
About the Author: Karen Trefzger is a writer, singer, teacher, wife, mother, and grandmother who has been choosing a simpler life for over 20 years. She is the author of Minimalism A to Z, and blogs at MaximumGratitudeMinimalStuff.