Better Off

Brende, Eric. Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.

Reason read: February is Science month

The cover of Better Off reads, “Two People. One Year. Zero Watts.” That is the premise of the book in a nutshell. Eric Brende and his new wife, Mary, travel to an undisclosed community to try a life without technology. It ends up lasting a little over a year and it’s like a science project on a much more grandiose scale; to live in a community considered “primitive” even by Amish standards. But, as I read I found myself asking how far back does one scale back technology in order to be considered primitive? According to Brende, this Minimite community used flashlights. You forgo electricity in favor of kerosene. Yet, how is that different from using a flashlight? Electricity is electricity. Shouldn’t the limit be a candle for illumination? Nothing more, nothing less?
But in truth, I fell in love with Brende’s book right from the start, mainly because of his explanatory note, “…Readers have some options in how they choose to proceed. The story can be read the way stories usually are, that is, as entertainment (I hope riveting), or as food for thought on the broader human condition (I hope stimulating), or even in this case as a real-life model for practical action (I hope instructive).” In giving us choices he voices no expectation. This is not meant to be trivial, preachy or didactic, but rather interesting, thought-provoking and education.

Quotes that gave me pause, “Friendship was something you could only sidle up to obliquely” (p 33), “When the quantity of machines shrinks, another area of human realization expands: skill” (p 50), and “The compass of Mary’s homesickness reversed its arrow” (p 78).

Author fact: According to Brende, he and his wife honeymooned in Maine. I am dying to know where. Did they try the remote and rustic (often called ‘quaint’) island of Monhegan where one can find kerosene lamps, communal dining and not one McDonald’s in sight?

Book trivia: Better Off includes some interesting illustrations in the “A Barn Raising” chapter.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the catch-all chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 114).

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