The Simple Life? Thoughts on Eric Brende’s Better Off
Last summer, I happened across a decade-old book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology by Eric Brende. This volume appears to be Mr. Brende’s sole publishing credit; in fact, he seems to have embraced the philosophy explored by his work and effectively constructed a life beyond the parameters of the internet and the computer age. He does not maintain a website, a Twitter feed, or an Instagram account. Brende seems to have “flipped the switch.”
Several weeks ago, I dedicated not one but two posts to Self and Soul and its thoughts on searching for the good or ideal life. Better Off is a similar book, stirring up similar musings. What is the good life? This question has bedeviled saints, philosophers, artists, and writers since the dawn of recorded thought. Both Aristotle and Socrates punched at the question. Every man or women likely ponders the question at different moments throughout their lives.
During a rest stop on a bus trip, Brende shared a conversation with an Amish gentleman traveling to an undisclosed location. Several months later, Brende with his new bride embarked upon an experiment: to live off-the-grid in this man’s offshoot community for twelve months. No refrigeration. Not central heat or air. No telephone. No computer. No electricity. (And eventually) no car. Brende and his wife would live largely from the land, cultivating a kitchen garden and growing sorghum and pumpkins to eke out a meager income.
As the days, weeks, and months passed, the Brendes shed almost all attachments to modern technology and they escaped the cocoon of constant noise and busyness entrapping many of us in today’s world. During this process, Brende became enchanted with everyday life. Every act had a purpose. Every sight, taste, smell, and sound seemed more stirring, more potent. Brende recalled reading on a summer night and listening to the insects hitting the window screens. He called it music.
When their yearlong odyssey concluded, Mr. and Mrs. Brende left the farmstead and returned to a more urban environment. Although Brende and his growing family no longer tilled the soil and lived solely by the sweat of their brows, they were determined to draw away from an existence enslaved by “getting and spending.” They opted for a slower, simpler life.
Brende doesn’t argue that everyone should embrace his radical sever from technology and the modern world. However, he does believe that every reader should strongly consider the lessons of Better Off and apply what will enable them to build a more meaningful and enriching individual life. Brende even penned an appendix of practical tips for streamlining one’s day-to-day choices and activities.
For any reader disillusioned by technological wares and our increased “wired” society, Eric Brende offers hope that another world is possible (The irony doesn’t escape me that this review is circulated solely on the internet). Now that spring is upon us, do yourself a favor: pick up this provocative book, find a quiet spot outdoors, and enjoy.