Monday, September 01, 2008

Better Off

I've just finished reading a fascinating book called Better Off by Eric Brende. It's the story of a couple who live for a year and a half without electricity or any modern conveniences in an Amish-esque community as an experiment to see if modern technology has actually made their lives (or society's as a whole) any easier or better. [Brende, who did his Master's degree at MIT, wrote his thesis about the experience.] You can tell from the title that the author concludes that we are better off the grid. He makes a very convincing argument, but, of course, I wasn't too hard to convince. If I hadn't already been interested in the subject, I probably wouldn't have read the book. I've actually been meaning to read it for several years.

There is a lot to share from the book, but for now I'll stick with this one little story, which he calls "the tale of the southern fisherman". The story serves to illustrate the absurdity of modern living, in the way we use technology to avoid work in one area of life and then end up having to replace it in another way (like driving to the gym, for example). In his rural experience, he learns that working together with other members of a community can serve multiple functions -- it becomes a way to socialize, exercise, and earn a living. Most of all, he learns that a slower and simpler way of life allows for more enjoyment, more appreciation of nature, of other people, of life.

Anyway, here is the story:

"The rich man from the North came by one day and saw the southern fisherman sitting, just sitting by the water. This horrified him. 'What are you doing?' he asked. 'I'm sitting,' replied the fisherman. 'Why aren't you out there fishing?' 'I have caught enough fish for one day,' he said. 'Don't you know,' returned the rich man, 'that if you continued, you could earn more money, and with that, buy another boat? With two boats you could earn more money still and buy better nets. Then you could catch even more fish and pretty soon you'd have a whole fleet of boats. Then you'd be rich like me.' 'What would I do then?' asked the fisherman. 'Then you could really enjoy life.' Replied the fisherman, 'What do you think I'm doing right now?'"

A far cry from the message of The dip, eh?

1 comment:

tkempton said...

The "southern fisherman" story is a common tale in the international development realm - lots of laughter, late in the evening while living overseas, has been fueled by stories like this.

In Central America we would spend all day reading, chatting over coffee, and napping in hammocks and think of all the crazy folks back at home scrambling around inside this crazy race of "progress." What is real progress, anyway?

That being said, the poverty that often accompanies such time and space is *not* ideal for any human being. I would love to craft a livelihood in which all our basic needs are met AND we have the time to really enjoy our lives, experience life in a deep and meaningful way, and have plenty of creative, genuine experiences.