Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Better Off

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende

Eric Brende and his new wife, Mary, leave behind Boston to explore a technology-free life in a community similar in many ways to the Amish. They have no running water, no electricity, and no phone. They have a large garden and plant some cash crops. More than an examination of the absence of technology, Mr. Brende is interested in what community looks like when everything moves at a slower pace and everyone is dependent on each other. This is particularly true for the Brendes. It's not at all clear to me how well the time would have gone for them if they hadn't had lots of help from their very kind and knowledgeable neighbors.

Most of the book is an account of how they spend their days, but without a great amount of detail. In some ways, I thought it was either too much (a bit redundant and wandering at times) or too little (you certainly couldn't try to replicate their lives with the limited information here on actual gardening and farming). I was also confused by some of the personal interactions related, but perhaps that was because I couldn't keep the different individuals straight in my head.

The most interesting chapter is the epilogue, when Mr. Brende pulls together his thoughts on the experiment as a whole and how it impacted their lives after they returned to a more conventional city.
For those who would outstep and outsmart machines, a broad suggestion: remember the principle of minimation. Technology undoubtedly has, and will always have, some role in making life easier or better, so one shouldn't exclude it. But the role is supplemental. Technology serves us, not we technology.
I particularly liked when he talked about how technology should be used most when it brings people together who otherwise would not connect. I like using email to keep in touch with old friends, but it would be better to step away from my laptop during the day when my children are asking me to read aloud to them. (Frankly, in my case, books are just as bad as the laptop.)

If you're interested in reading this book, I almost recommend reading the epilogue first. Then you can decide to read the rest of the book if you want to learn more about what it was like for the Brendes.


  1. I have often thought that whether I am ignoring my kids to read or to surf FB really makes no difference to them.

    Did you see this?

  2. I did see that article, Monica (after I wrote this post). My kids are champions at playing and entertaining themselves which is great. I'm still not very good at giving them my undivided attention outside of schoolwork, which isn't very fun for them.


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