The Allure of the minimal

The Futures

Most films that show our future are full of glitz and glamour, a fantastical land of flying vehicles. People live in clean, modern homes, and have their lives radically improved through technology, and want for nothing. Families and workers seamlessly keep in touch, and share parts of their lives with their friends and companions, and generally embrace the technology all around them.

If there is any enemy or ill feeling in the protagonist, it is usually an overlord or corporation that is taking over or slowly consuming their society. What Sci-fi films lack is the ennui-ridden, laconic hipster Luddite who eschews the tech of the day for practices hundreds of years old. And yet, this is the future we live in.

The Fetish

For people like myself, the daily exposure to an always on connection can lead to dreaming of or even fetishizing disconnection. Tumblrs, Instagrams, and blogs all about country living, hand-made crafts, and wilderness exploration; where once we dreamed of hoverboards, HUDs, and instant content availability, we now dream of forests, shacks, and thick wool. In a very literal “grass is always greener” sense, many technologists and Internet workers I know dream of giving it all up for yurts, hikes, and leatherwork. Why fight with buzzing and demanding screens and sounds, when you can return to nature and regain a sense of humanity.

This attitude is parodied on Portlandia and Twitter, to humorous effect, but it really does exist. Men and women use old-fashioned tools to make cocktails with hand-chipped ice and eschew belts for suspenders.

And in many ways, the realization that there is more to life than flashing lights and bandwidth is hugely progressive. More than ever our relationships and environment are fading into the background of a global connectedness, and some are finding ways to rebel and recover. But, much like a casual drinker who swears off alcohol, it’s easy to go too far in the other direction. Paul Miller from the Verge is an example, albeit an admittedly extreme one. In one Offline article, he goes so far as to speak of the impracticality of working and not using the internet. His experiment with internet disconnectedness is almost over, and from his more recent articles, it seems that he didn’t get much out of it. And really, unless you make leather goods by hand, and sell them at a market, you’re probably stuck on the web for some aspect of your life.

A Possible Solution

Really, going from always on to a Ted Kazynski cabin in the woods is a bad idea. It may seem exciting or sexy to become a lumberjack and live “off the grid”, but so many things about our modern conveniences are extremely helpful when used with discernment and moderation. The blind can see, the deaf can hear, and family thousands of miles away can speak to one another because of recent advances. These benefits should not be thrown out just because we have trouble putting our iPhones away during dinner. We should aim towards having Internet-free meals, or vacations, or weekends though. Learning the harder task of being offline sometimes, and not just joining a luddite cloister is a worthwhile discipline.

Stepping away from technology, much like putting aside work or a hard problem, can bring amazing perspective and appreciation for the marvels of our age. Instead of drastically changing our lifestyle, let’s strive to bring plain human interaction back into the life we already have.

And while it may not sound as exciting as building our own house in the woods, and making our own butter as we groom our beard with a bone comb, it’s certainly a lot more achievable. We seem wired to desire drastic results and try extreme behavior to achieve them, but success in this regard is ephemeral. Minor tweaks to our behavior and routines won’t look as interesting, but will help keep us sane and able to enjoy technology as a tool.

As many have said, “don’t let the ideal be the enemy of the good”. Small changes to both our attitudes and actions can make huge improvements to our overall life quality.