We like to talk about “going luddite.” Without our computers and phones, for significant periods of time.
(Ironically, the origin of the name Luddite was with 19th century textile workers- anti-machinery protesters. I’m using the more contemporary meaning of ‘resistant to technology’)
It occurred to me yesterday, while cleaning the new workshop, I’d rather spend three hours a day cleaning than working on a computer. The issue of course, is that the cleaning has a neutral to negative financial return, while the computer, like a lottery ticket, has the potential to provide large returns.
The computer, on its network of other people on the internet– might- if I’m lucky- connect me with customers/ press/ opportunity etc.
But cleaning probably will not.
So I’ve been thinking about how to be more, at the very least, more deliberate about technology, to harness it better- and ultimately have to touch it less.
One has to go fairly far down the path of deliberate communication for it to be interesting to other people. (I’m thinking of one Chef Ito, world-renowned in the raw food world- who has been under a self-imposed vow of silence for years.)
There’s a relationship, I believe, between the over-bureaucratization of our lives and the advent of technology. It’s horrifying how much computer-work is required to do a “simple” thing like have employees on payroll. In some cases, clearly, there’s an incredible time-saving measure to technology- how much would I have preferred to be able to renew my driver’s license online last summer than visit the DMV three times and be greeted by dreadfully unfriendly office workers?
however, without the advent of mass technology, would that extensive bureaucracy of the DMV even have existed? Many of us yearn for the pre-contemporary or post-apocalyptic. (I don’t actually feel like I fall into either camp- but I aim to minimize the ways I interface with both bureaucrazy and technology.)
As noted before, one of our favorite quick getaways is to Midcoast. The small towns just a few hours north of here, on the water of course.
(I tried to explain what I liked about these small towns to a friend. “What’s different about them?” she asked. “well, they are on the water.” I explained. “But you live on the water here!” she exclaimed, laughing. True. Somehow, it’s different there, outside of the city.)
And so we go up north to get away from the city. “What, you mean Portland, pop. 60k.?” our recently transplanted-from-NYC friends like to tease me.
I go to New York -the City- with Daniel perhaps twice a year. And as history has proven, I’ll end up crying at least once in the first day in the city because “there are so many people!!” Life in the city is full of other people’s energy.
In our new workshop location- still only 17 minutes from Portland but decidedly more rural- we’re enjoying the new pace. There’s a qualitatively different feel about being outside of a city. The people feel different. The pace feels more focused and deliberate. I can think better.
Now, of course, I’m aware of the notion that cities – and density – are presumed the only way to sustain population on a global scale. But I’m not really sure how good it is for – shall we just say- for our souls. The benefits of a small town can be like the benefits of a big family- there are built-in checks and balances, support systems based on love and connection, rather than based on bureaucrazy and mandates. I read with interest the story about Dasani and her large family caught in the social services system of NYC, and could only think- it’s not about money. It’s about something else. (at one point in the story, her family inherits $49k after a relative dies. That’s literally enough to buy a house- without a mortgage- in any number of small towns in the country. Including Rockland, Maine.) The city- and its systems- become a self-propagating beast of enormous complexity.
(and of course, the small towns have their notorious downsides- insularity, homogeneity, distrust of outsiders.)
But in a small town, you can be an individual dealing with other individuals. In a big city it seems hard to become more than a statistic.
I think- to quantify it- what I like best about Midcoast is that these small towns are “right-sized” small towns- 8 to 10k people. They are small enough and dense enough- in the old-fashioned way- that one can easily exist in them without driving everyday. The issue, the challenge of sprawl- is that to accomplish anything requires driving. But dense small towns allow one to survive without driving for days, as the grocery, hardware store, and other essentials are all within walking or bicycling distance.
As a thought experiment- what does a world of denser small towns look like and feel like? How do the cities change?
With friends our age, we often talk about being the last generation to grow up remembering the pre-internet days (born in the late seventies.) The internet was not interesting until I was 20 years old or so. It barely existed when I was fifteen.
So, to summarize. As more of New York & Brooklyn moves to Portland- after a few years or so- we’ll just move north. :)
*all spelling is intentional.