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Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology (P.S.) Paperback – Aug 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (Aug. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060570059
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060570057
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 728,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By LoveTheBook on 31 July 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Experiment in low-tech living. Brende and his wife move to a low-tech religious (akin to Amish) community and chronicles his experience. Overall an Interesting read. If he did a follow up I'd buy it which must mean I enjoyed it. It does seem to me that this lifestyle can only be maintained because there is an outside high-tech community that can provide services like medical, policing. But it does make you wonder how much of the week you're working just to keep the gadgets going!
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By Cynthia Fleming on 15 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book. Am I a Luddite? Possibly. I guess I do think we have become slaves to our gadgets and cannot imagine live without them- which is scary to me. This is a little look at how different it was and might need to become again someday. We certainly shouldn't lose all our "home-making" skills.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 109 reviews
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Best book I've read this year 11 Nov. 2004
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have summarized this book so I'll just make a few comments.

This book really draws you in and lets you share the life they live without technology. He minimizes discussions of theology, for which I was thankful. I am hoping to change my life in ways that will give me more time and mastery over my life rather than my modern life which in some ways has mastery over me. I love books which present an alternative way of living- I can learn from their mistakes and also pick out the best parts to put together to make a new life.

I also wanted to mention that I did not get the anti-woman impression that the other feminist reviewer did. I don't know that I call myself a feminist but I certainly am a woman who identifies with many of their beliefs. As far as I could tell he treated his wife with respect and I think that showed in the telling of the story. He made if clear that this adventure was something that he wanted more than she did, and that after the 18 months were over it would be her choice what to do next. When he mentioned Mary gabbing with the neighbors, he mentioned that he did too. In the previous paragraph for example, he had mentioned that he spent a half-hour every time he made a photocopy because he had to catch up on the news in town. In the section on childbirth, he just tries to balance the dangers of home birth (they had three midwives plus a doctor stopped by) with the dangers of hospital births (hospital infections, 1 out of 3 births in boston hospitals is by cesarean).

In summary, it's a wonderful book if you like books which let you explore someone else's life. If you are overwhelmed by how much you pay (in time and money) for technologies like car upkeep and power tools, you might even learn a thing or two.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
You will be changed in some small way 8 July 2006
By Elizabeth - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What makes this such an interesting book is a variety of things. First off the author is MIT educated, Catholic and willing along with his new wife to try an experiment. Live with as little technology as possible for over a year, maybe two. True, they do not go cold turkey, because they do own a car which they keep and use for over a year. But considering the way they grew up and lived, going sans indoor plumbing, regular washer and dryer, cook stove, refrigerator, computer, telephone is a huge cultural shock for someone. Especially if its a way of life and not simply a break from the regular world.

Loved reading how they struggled to shed the small issues like sleeping in, or taking naps when the work became so hard and the heat outside to hot. Interesting reading how they dealt with work, cooking, canning food, using an old wringer washer that required hauling water, heating it etc. Same with taking a hot bath. Hot summers and something as simple as moving the bed layout and opening windows for a cross breeze.

Or the work of planting enough pumpkins and sorghum to sell to at least meet expenses. Learning how to use a horse drawn plow and harvester. Rasing chickens and swine for food and all that is involved with culling them and preserving what one grows so one can survive and eat during the non productive winter months.

Then having a baby at home and incorporating washing diapers, late night feedings, with keeping the homestead going on less sleep. Dealing with squabbles that were about her sewing away and he's hungry from working all day, yet nothing has been cooked for dinner.

Was pleased to read his defense if you will of the women who co-own and run a family homestead which is what the Amish and many Mennonites do. How they are indeed equal partners at home. Had never heard the term Minnimites before and it suggested to me that there are far more Minnimite minded folks here in the states that I realized. Including here in the Sierras. Albeit they aren't 'organized' religiously, but their lifestyle certainly denotes a simpler more content way of life.

One looks around them and see all the 'labor saving devises' we have and yet so many people complain of not having enough time to do things. Maybe all these modern technological items waste more of our time than they save? How many hours, as the book shows, are wasted watching mindless shows on TV, or reading or talking idle nonsense on the Internet? How much money is spent joining a fitness center, when planting a vegetable garden and tending it a half hour a day would be just as or more healthy? How much better would we be if more of us rode bikes, rather than jump in the gas fueled car to drive to the store to buy stuff we probably don't need and junk food we really don't need?

The book simply is a thought provoking book that even the hardest person will be made gentler by. I cannot help but think, anyone who reads it will be changed in some small way.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Not the Depth I was Hoping for 22 Aug. 2004
By Drew Blood - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you're considering purchasing this book, keep in mind, it's quite brief. I would have liked more depth and detail with regards to the physical challenges of his 18 months with the "Minimites". I was reading this book in the hopes of actually learning something about living a low-tech lifestyle, but Eric chose to focus more on the emotional impact the lifestyle had on himself and his wife, and he spent a large part of the story giving brief portrayals of his neighbors in the community.

What Eric does provide is certainly not bad. I enjoyed the diversity of the neighborhood around him, and I did like the basic theme of the book - when people are brought together under the auspices of labor, a true sense of community is obtained and the work itself is all but forgotten. I just didn't feel that this short read (a very fast reading 256 pages) provided the depth I was looking for.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
The True Husbandman 24 Nov. 2004
By George O'Har - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology is the story of how a young man and his wife embark upon a journey that at heart is straight out of Thoreau's Walden. Ostensibly, Mr. and Mrs. Brende are seeking a refuge, however temporary, from modernity. What they in fact are doing is more serious: they report back, they are sending us their findings--which is what Thoreau understood Emerson to be saying in his essay on "Self-Reliance": Leave the hurly-burly behind. Clear your head. Come back and tell us what the air is like. Life among the "Minimites" is Brende's addendum to what is by now something of a long-standing tradition (Letters From an American Farmer; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; On the Road) in American Literature.

The idea that anyone today might have reservations about our over-reliance on technology is not itself new; others have been down this road before. But rarely has it been done with such grace and sensitivity. The story begins at MIT, where our narrator (Brende), while working toward his Ph.D., is trying to come to grips with a burgeoning realization that the indiscriminate use of technology exacts a price, and that for some people, that price--a dilution of what might be called the 'joy' we humans can feel when we work with our hands--is indeed a steep price to pay. In Better Off, Brende demonstrates, by putting the gloves on and doing the work himself (under the watchful and often wry eyes of his 'Minimite' friends and neighbors), that we have more control over the technological choices we make in life than most of us ever come to understand, and that there are things we can do to regain some of those old feelings we have lost at the hands of machines.

Better Off is exceedingly well-written. Brende has a flair for understatement, and an utterly keen eye for the telling detail and the delightful anecdote. My copy of the book is littered with yellow post-its. I came away from the book with the unalterable sense that I knew these people, these 'Minimites' (especially the Millers). Important to note, too, is that Better Off is not an anti-technological screed. Most of the people Brende lived among depended upon some use of technology: what they tended to do was to use the minimum necessary to accomplish a given task. Tasks! Ends and means! Who talks about these things anymore?

By and large, all the characters in the book are trying to lead a balanced existence, and they accomplish this by respecting the power of machinery, and by not letting go of what it is in our physical nature that cries out for some good hard work. And no one works alone. The Minimites, like their 19th-century utopian counterparts, work together: "many hands make work light." Community! There's another of those forgotten words. As Brende says, and it's a good notion to get hold of: "there is no end to the possible uses of technology...but in all cases it (technology) must serve our needs, not the reverse." Philosophically speaking, that's what his book is about, hammering that idea into some kind of usable shape. On a moral level, however--and maybe this is more vital--Better Off is a how-to book on the importance of living deliberately.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Enjoyable, thought-provoking book 30 May 2005
By Florida Dad - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Eric Brende's personal look at the impact of technology on the modern world is a book well worth reading (and just as important, readable). As a computer programmer and fan of all things science fiction, I found this book a necessary critique of the "Star Trek"-type attitude that technology is only an agent for good in the world.

But this is no dry, boring academic treatise. By writing about his actual life experiences living for 18 months in an Amish-like community, Brende allows us to enter the actual thought process of these people and their decision to forego technologies most of us believe are "essential". He takes us past our stereotypes to understand why they have made the decisions that, frankly, make them seem crazy to the outside world.

I initially went into this book assuming that Brende would believe that all technology was evil and destructive. But that is the surprise here: Brende does not think all technology should be rejected outright; instead, all technology should be thoughtfully judged for possible negative side-effects before embracing it whole-heartedly. He calls us to remember the unintended consequences of much of our technology. A case in point he mentions is the use of the telephone. In the community he lived in, there was debate on the use of the telephone after a woman was saved in childbirth after a midwife called a doctor. Everyone agreed that telephones could serve useful purposes (such as the midwife's use), but many worried that overuse of it led to idle chatter and a destruction of interpersonal social communications. Their decision was to continue to have phones available to the community, but not allow them for anything except emergency uses. Considering the fact that you can't sit in any public location today without being bombarded with constant (and banal) cell-phone chattering all around you, it seems to me that the community might be on to something.

As we progress to a "Brave New World" of experimentation on human beings for medical reasons, remotely-controlled military weapons systems, and communications overload, I think Brende's book is a welcome wake-up call to analyze what really makes us human and how modern technology was to be the servant of humanity, not our master.
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