Eric Brende, author of “Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology” spoke in my environmental economics class on Monday. His journey from MIT to living with the Amish for a year helped him experience the conversation and growth that come with monotonous labor tasks, ones like husking corn. In class, he represented this idea audibly through a piano demonstration; he played a repetitive rhythm with his left hand and noted the somewhat boring nature of it. But he said this repetitive rhythm really becomes the basis for conversation that can emerge—he played a melody with his right hand to represent what can grow out of a monotonous task.
Brende’s thesis that sometimes we are not truly “better off” using technology is something I identify with. I touched on this idea in an earlier editorial on using ebooks; there is indeed a place for technology, but it should be used intentionally and not used just to keep up, or just because everyone else is using it. Brendes pushed me further in this insight. I appreciated his idea that taking part in physical labor instead of always resorting to a machine allows for personal interaction that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. It allows for teamwork.
One way I personally experienced Brende’s message was working on Clay Bottom Farm this summer. I worked two days a week harvesting and preparing Ben and Rachel Hartman’s naturally grown produce for sale at the Farmer’s Market and for Community Supported Agriculture boxes. I worked alongside a few other young adults who I was thrilled to have the chance to know. The conversations we had during weeding, planting and harvesting wouldn’t have happened if Ben and Rachel had a large-scale farm that required machines to water, plant and harvest. There was something about sharing the tasks, whether in hot, humid greenhouses or outside in the breeze, that brought us together. These were very special times to me.
Technology does make life easier in many instances; I did drive a car out to the farm in the summer instead of biking the seven miles into the country. But I want to encourage people to look for opportunities to slow down, rake some leaves and have a conversation with friends or housemates. If you have a free evening, cook a meal together from scratch. Bike to the grocery store instead of driving—and do it soon, winter is on its way! You might be pleasantly surprised at what conversations and experiences emerge.