The Human Option

Writing with ink quill"To De-tech." Besides being an awkward verb, it's also an amusing notion, in a way. It brings to mind those groups who have eschewed the modern world in favour of horse-drawn carts, raising livestock and churning butter. I myself have received email from people --even from journalists-- who somehow believe that I have abandoned technology. Besides the obvious facts that I run a website and answer email in the first place, it's a little ridiculous to think that I'm sitting in a backwoods cabin creating my to-do lists with a quill pen by the light of a lantern. My story becomes far less interesting when I tell them that I spend a goodly portion of my waking hours in front of a computer.

Ah, but there's the rub! And one of the main reasons why I want to de-tech, just a little. Sometimes you just have to break away from the commonplace, stretch your legs, meander outside, take in a little air, and glance around to gain a little perspective on matters.

Sure, if you start using paper again, you'll probably save money, rediscover your ability to focus, and won't have to fret about the constant aggravations of constantly upgrading and fighting with technical issues daily. And you'll create and use materials that can last a lifetime, instead of becoming obsolete in a few months. But neither of these is the main reason for de-teching. In fact, it's so obvious that we often overlook it: a hundred hours a week interfacing with a machine can be dehumanising.

So, maybe you've reached this same conclusion. Perhaps, you think, it's time to de-tech a little, to while away a few less hours with computers and gadgets, and instead invest that time reading a little Hemingway or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or hand-writing or sketching your thoughts on paper, or just relaxing with a nice steaming cup of tea or coffee while staring at the scene outside the window, alone in a quiet place with your own uncluttered and uninterrupted mind as an erstwhile companion.

But it's a big step, isn't it? And you can see all sorts of problems arising. What if someone sends you a vitally important email? What if there's a major breaking news story you don't hear? What if someone asks you a question that you need the Net to answer? And that roast in the oven, where do I find out how long it's supposed to cook? Oh, dear... you don't know if this is something you can do. The shakes have begun, delirium tremens caused by an unrealised addition seizing your nerves, boiling your brain, racing your heart.

Oh, stop.

It's perfectly natural to have doubts about any sort of lifestyle change, however minor. The best thing you can do right now, though, is to keep things in perspective. After all, this isn't like quitting a job or getting married: you can undo and tweak any changes as you go along. Life is a process of experimentation, and as long as you're a creative individual, you'll constantly be experimenting. Don't worry about it: loosen up and have fun. The idea is to remove limits, not set them.

The best advice I can possibly give those people looking to the "Analog Revolution" for some sort of salvation or release from their shackles: don't take anything too seriously --it's not a religion, or even an idealogical movement-- and don't look at de-teching as an all-or-nothing affair. Keep your mind open, and don't automatically assume that technology must or must not be used to solve your issues and lead a creative and productive life.

Given our reliance on computers for most things, attempting an analog --and more human-- option is a worthwhile endeavour, if only to discover what is possible in a technological age.

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feels good

Fact is that I am using tech to understand pros and cons to de-tech, and this is weird. I seem de-teching is more on the line to enslave tech to re-evaluate what we do everyday. I happen to appreciate more and more simple objects, like pen & paper... nonetheless I use eBay, Google, DIY and other sources available 3u tech to browse what is available on a far wider market than my immediate surrounding.

W/out tech, I wouldn't have ever thought to contact companies like Levenger to get my index card and holder (I live in Italy, as you can guess from my *bad* english) or to understand the differencies, subtleties and appreciations for different kinds of pens, ink gels, etc.

My feeling is I am tired to use a pc to work with everyday and I am turning to paper the same way a financial director wants to make some zero-brain photocopies: for the sake of breaking away. There is no productivity advantage, if not what derives from the *novelty* (and it could be a lot), but... it feels good. :-)

and often that feel good

and often that feel good feeling enables improved productivity e.g. better insight into solving a problem, generating more options for a business case, planning that difficult conversation. The additional and variation in stimulus is, at least to me, an important part of not ending up a drone.

and as a Finance Director the odd zero brain is good, unless of course the copiers broken, again :(

Synonym= Appropriate Technology

Doug, I am really with you on de-teching (My misplaced cell phone may be in permanent hiatus along with a mothballed Palm Pilot) but we need to recognize the concept is really a variation on the hoary alternative culture term, "appropriate technology", which really is just simplifying our efforts, and our thinking, so the means are scaled and appropriate to the task at hand. Public Transit, composting, and the computer and cell phone can all be appropriate technology, depending on the context.

However, the context, and the rigor applied in evaluating the context, is very individual, and dependent on the values one brings to the evaluation. One of my very favorite authors, Wendell Berry, poet, novelist, essayist, social critic and full-time farmer, points to the Amish, whose use a simple, yet very rigorous standard. Their evaluation of the application of technology is framed in the following question that they implicitly or explicitly ask, individually and comunally: How will this new thing affect the life, structure, and well being of our community? They value the vigorous, rural, physically challenging farm lives they lead, integrated with their religiously grounded community. As a result, their answer to the question has resulted in some seemingly contradictory outcomes: their use of modern stationary power tools powered by stand-alone diesel generators or water mills, phone booths at the property boundaries of their farms, their use of horses over cars and tractors, to name a few. However, all these choices allow them the minimum necessary participation in the modern world, while preserving their relative separation from the modern world. This is a community based choice that I neither defend nor critique, but point to as one means that living individuals and communities have evaluated how technologies should come into their lives, or not. It is worth noting that Mr. Berry himself has chosen to lead a very Amish-like life (off the grid, organic farming) while being a prolific author, farmer, public speaker, husband, and parent. The real point that needs to be made is that we do have choices about using technology, more than we might initially recognize, and "de-teching" reflects that those of us most enamoured with technology are starting to recognize costs and limitations that may have never been visible to us before.

Now please understand, I don't mean to go too far afield here. Clearly we all probably can't and shouldn't be Amish, but "de-teching" starts us all on the path of thinking hard about the relationships between our work, our lives, our families, our communities, and the technologies that can hinder or enliven them. Believe me when I say that I know that it is really, really hard to turn away from the next best thing; novelty and technology stroll (or better yet, sprint) hand-in-hand through our world and are the North American culture's stock in trade. Yet, when we stop, pause, and seriously evaluate whether some new device, or software tool, or attention-grabbing technology really should have a place in our lives, we make critically important choices that will benefit our our work and vocations, the lives of those who we live and work with, and, ultimately, the path and direction of the technologies we critique.

Finally, since most of us straddle the technology divide, it may be informative to read the aforementioned Wendell Berry's essay "Why I am not going to buy a computer" found, ironically enough, at:

Best regards in all your de-teching!

Evergreen, CO

Intentional living at its finest...

I think the decision to "de-tech," at any level, is about intentional living. Choosing what's best for you individually, on an item-by-item basis, as opposed to surfing the cultural wave.

As for the apparent incongruity of working at a computer all day and choosing an analog system for organization, I am reminded of something I read from Winston Churchill, from his essay on Painting as A Pastime, about how in order to rest the mind, you can't simply tell it to stop, you have to switch gears and consciously think about something else.

For me, choosing an analog system over a digital one is as much about avoiding digital burnout as it is choosing the most elegant solution. But fortunately, my analog solution answers both questions equally well. :)

Wendell Berry has issues...

Wendell berry is a christian fundamentalist. If you read his "essays" and you have a competent analytical grasp of english, it will be painfully obvious.

His references to "morality" and even the passing mention of 7 particular behaviors, ergo "the 7 deadly sins"

This guy is missing some screws, "the joy of sales resistance"
I'm not out thyere looking to get "sold" products either but this guy makes a sport out of it. He's deeply hurt, and angry.


Thats like telling cro magnons to stop making arrowheads, because you see, teeth are much more efficient at ripping flesh, just look how the wolves do it....

I'm all for off the grid living, farming, and solar power, but this guy is religiously motivated!


Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry is a Christian, but he is not a fundamentalist. His religious motivation is the preservation of the environment and the inherent dignity of all people. Would that we all could be so "religiously motivated."

Berry's strategic approach to the issues he writes about may not be everyone's cup of tea, and they will probably not solve the problems that he sees. But there are problems out there, and we cannot simply pretend they are not there.

In the tech world, there are bright, well informed people who consider Microsoft to be the equivalent of the Evil Empire. They migrate to Apple or Linux or some other strand of the computer world. Some folks by only organically grown foods because they have suspicions about the values of the corporations that supply the bulk of what we eat. There are countless other examples of the kind of approach Berry takes.

Obviously, I have taken a different path. I use a computer, but Berry makes me think. And he writes well. While his writing contains passion, it is not hysterical. He is a thoughtful, articulate man who helps us think about our world and where it's going--if we will listen.

Religious Motivation

I'm all for off the grid living, farming, and solar power, but this guy is religiously motivated!


Your signature says it all.

The only kind of motivation that's wrong is hate, and your post seems to lean in that direction.