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Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology
Synopses & Reviews
What happens when a graduate of MIT, the bastion of technological advancement, and his bride move to a community so primitive in its technology that even Amish groups consider it antiquated?
Eric Brende conceives a real-life experiment: to see if, in fact, all our cell phones, wide-screen TVs, and SUVs have made life easier and better — or whether life would be preferable without them. By turns, the query narrows down to a single question: What is the least we need to achieve the most? With this in mind, the Brendes ditch their car, electric stove, refrigerator, running water, and everything else motorized or "hooked to the grid" and begin an eighteen-month trial run — one that dramatically changes the way they live, and proves entertaining and surprising to readers.
Better OFF is a smart, often comedic, and always riveting book that also mingles scientific analysis with the human story, demonstrating how a world free of technological excess can shrink stress — and waistlines — and expand happiness, health, and leisure. Our notion that technophobes are backward gets turned on its head as the Brendes realize that the crucial technological decisions of their adopted Minimite community are made more soberly and deliberately than in the surrounding culture, and the result is greater — not lesser — mastery over the conditions of human existence.
"About a decade ago, Brende was pursuing a graduate degree at MIT by studying technology's influence on society, and he reached conclusions that disturbed both him and his faculty mentors. A chance encounter with a 'black-hatted man' prompted Brende and his new wife to move to a religious, 'Mennonite-type' community that in many respects makes the Amish seem worldly, where he hoped to pare his environment down to 'a baseline of minimal machinery' that could sustain human comfort while allowing him to stay off the power grid. (Details about the community, which Brende dubs the 'Minimites' in recognition of their austerity, are left intentionally vague so as to preserve their privacy.) The pervasive back-to-basics sentiment will surprise few familiar with others who work this vein, like Bill McKibben and Kirkpatrick Sale, but Brende's nostalgia for a simpler way of life is far from rabid. His rough prose honestly addresses how neighbors in his new community could graciously offer help yet warily view Brende as an intruder; Brende himself was particularly sensitive to perceived slights, and the radical lifestyle shift created a unique set of strains on his new marriage. Though the ending feels a bit rushed, his gentle case for simple living will easily resonate with the converted and may inspire skeptics to grapple more intimately with the issue. Agent, John Ware. (Aug. 6)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
The author and his spouse spent 18 months in Amish country living without electricity and its dependent technologies. Here he recounts the experience, not only detailing the daily activities and frequent difficulties they found necessary to maintain existence without electricity, but also touting the benefits of such a life and exploring the culture of their adopted community.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
On a mission to prove that modern technological advances make lives more inconvenient and less healthy, Brende and his wife lived for 12 months among an energy-free farming community.
About the Author
Eric Brende has degrees from Yale, Washburn University, and MIT, and has received a Citation of Excellence from the National Science Foundation and a graduate fellowship from the Mellon Foundation in the Humanities. At the insistence of his editor, he now has an e-mail account at the local library but continues to minimize modern technology for himself and his family. Eric and Mary Brende have recently relocated to an old-town section in St. Louis, where Eric makes his living as a rickshaw driver and a soap maker.
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