At first glance, the concepts of living a simple life and embracing modern technology would indeed seem to be strange bedfellows. And our minimalist cousins are quick to point to the high cost of purchasing, maintaining and upgrading personal electronic gadgetry… and they are right to do so. Especially when you consider the cost of required ancillary services like cell phone air time and ISP fees for computers. However, for us not-quite-minimalists, there are some advantages to be had that can allow us to live more simply if we choose carefully and eliminate the unnecessary.
To me, cell phones are a double edged sword. On the one edge you have the convenience of being able to call for help if you get stranded somewhere; making them a handy safety device. There is also the ability to contact other family members to let them know if you’re running late or should you need information about something. They are also handy for elderly people because the phone can be kept with them, in a pocket or holster, all the time so they don’t have to scramble to catch a standard phone when it rings. And, should they fall or get stuck somehow, they have help at hand.
On the other edge is the problem of getting too connected. I’ve written several articles about the problem known as social fragmentation that occurs when people are constantly on their phones to friends and relatives while shutting out the people in immediate proximity to them. This can generate all manner of rudeness in social situations and safety hazards when the phone conversation or texting becomes their primary focus while doing something that deserves their full attention.
And of course there is the danger of receiving huge phone bills if your phone plan is not properly matched to your phone usage.
If considered carefully and properly managed, a basic cell phone can be a helpful tool. Allow it to take over your life, and it will… well… take over your life!
Computers have become as common in American homes as refrigerators. Many homes have multiple computers, networked together, with internet access, and often hooked into the home entertainment system to steam music to the home sound system and movies to the television. When it all works right, they can be a hedonistic addition to your family entertainment options. When it does not work right, it can cause you to tear your hair out in frustration (reference – top of my head).
If each of your Younglings has a computer in their room (for doing homework of course) you will notice a marked absence of young folk during family times. Not only does this cut into the amount of quality time spent together, but unsupervised access to the Internet can bring into play all manner of undesirable consequences for you and your young’uns.
On the other hand, access to the internet can offer a wealth of high speed research ability as well as up to date news, and lots of entertainment. What used to take hours of searching through the public library is now a few clicks away with Google, Bing or Yahoo.
There is a ton of useful, wonderful stuff on the Internet. Through it you have access to the sum total knowledge of all mankind. But you also have access to a lot of stuff you (hopefully) don’t want to be getting into, and definitely don’t want your kids getting into. Again caution and advanced planning are advised. Software can filter out the undesirable. Purchase only what is needed, don’t get seduced by the marketing media when it tries to tell you that if you don’t have the whole ball of whiz-bang wax you’re a troglodyte looser.
These days there are so many fascinating gadgets available for purchase, from radio controlled toy cars, to robotic pets to amazing personal electronics to smart home networks that it would be easy to get lost in it all, especially if you are a gadget freak like me. But we have to draw the line somewhere.
I recommend deciding on a specific number of tech-toys you may have to play with. To bring in a new one, you must give up an old one; sell it or donate it, but get it gone. Then when you’re wandering through Amazon, or Radio Shack, Best Buy or wherever you hang out and some fascinating pretty-pretty croons its sultry song, “Look at me, touch me, caress me, love me. Take me home with you and I will give you *such* pleasure.” and the primal side of your brain begins to drool and sputter, “I want, I want…” the educated, intellectual side of your brain can chime in with, “OK, and what are you willing to give up to have this? This tends to have a cold-shower effect on that burning desire.
This, of course assumes you have sufficient disposable income to have budgeted for occasional tech-toy purchases. If you don’t; then put the whole notion out of your head right now and be happy with what you have. It’s that simple. Really, it is!
Living the Life
Here on our little mountainside compound we have what I consider an awful lot of electronics, but in talking with friends we are under the norm – and each piece has a specific purpose: nothing can be considered a toy.
A basic notebook computer in my Mom’s house. In our house we have two notebooks: one Marie uses for e-mail, web browsing and listening to Pandora. It is kept in a desk and connected to a good speaker system. My notebook is mobile and is an entertainment model: meaning it has a processor and memory suited to producing my radio programs and doggie videos. I earn all of my income through the Internet, having a powerful, fast computer is a necessity. We also have a Netbook that runs our VOIP telephone service and can go with Marie when she goes on the road. Then we have an HP dual core desktop in my workshop office.
This was our workhorse. It serves as the network hub, file server and internet gateway for all of these computers. High speed broadband Internet is served up by our cable TV company. This computer ran my business bookkeeping and product design software while I was doing woodworking. I did most of my writing and all of my web site maintenance from here, those tasks have now been moved to my laptop.
Because electricity is fluky here, I have a sizable Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to condition the voltage and power the computer, modem and router through short outrages and long enough to shut it down properly during an extended black-out. A memory card reader, speakers, back-up drive and all the networking gear round out the assemblage: enough to give any self respecting minimalist a coronary, but all in constant use and providing needed service.
My sister (who is not local) provided Mom with a cell phone that is part of her family plan so Mom has the benefits I spoke of for elderly folks above, and the two of them can talk or text as much as they want.
Marie purchased a basic, prepaid cell phone back when our truck was breaking down a lot. She normally keeps the phone turned off and doesn’t give the number out. It is designated as emergency equipment. Recently I bought a basic flip-phone that I carry in a holster and use in the same manner. These have proven very handy when we’re out trying to meet up with someone because there are so few public payphones anymore and half of the ones you do find are out of order. These also serve as contact between Marie and I if I am away from the VOIP phone, but we don’t give out the numbers and we don’t use them as our regular phones. Our pre-paid, annual, limited use contracts cost each of us less than $100 per year.
The TV part of our cable package ends at my office, where I have a DVR hooked to it and my computer monitor doubles as a small TV so I can program the DVR to record programming we want to see (which isn’t much). I burn the recordings onto rewritable DVDs and take them home to watch on a DVD/VCR player and smallish flat screen monitor. Rewritable DVDs can be reused many times. The DVD-RWs are a little more expensive up front, but are far cheaper in the long run and seriously reduce the waste involved in recording programs we will watch only once.
Marie bought me a Kindle for Christmas a few years ago. It’s the original Kindle. I resisted at first, but the more I thought about having 3,500 books available in something the size of a paperback, the more I liked the idea. I’m glad I have it, though I don’t carry more than about 80 books. Marie bought herself one (the next step up from mine, but still just a reader) the following year. We both use them daily to read in bed before going to sleep and to take with us when we travel or will be kept waiting somewhere like a doctor’s office.
We have three digital cameras: a pocket model we keep in the truck, a mid-range model I use in the workshop and a decent DSLR in a case that can go with us as needed. For us, cameras are not accessories or toys. I’m a writer: mostly non-fiction. I use photos extensively in my work and print publications require high quality, high resolution shots. Having a decent camera at hand is essential for me.
A couple of years ago Marie bought me a small camcorder for taking video of the dogs. I used the movie maker software that came with my computer to get started then purchased to a more powerful program as my skills improved. These doggy movies and Facebook have proved invaluable in promoting the foster dogs and helping find them good homes. We consider the cost of the camera and software money well spent in light of the lives saved.
Modern technology can be fun, it can be useful, but it can also be addictive… and expensive. Well thought out and researched purchases can add value and convenience to your life. But take the time to assess:
- What your technology *needs* are
- What products are available to meet those needs
- And the quality of those products
This is one area where buying the cheapest model you can find will likely cost you more in the end. Shopping for value is the key here.
If you don’t feel you *need* a computer, or the Internet or the most trendy personal communications device, or tech toys, or a big screen, high def, 3D golly gosh TV set; by all means skip them! Go sit on the front porch and watch a sunset. The fewer distractions you have, the more you will enjoy life and the people you share it with.
How has technology affected your life? Do you view it as a benefit or a detriment?