Issue 13: Technology and Simple Living

Posted December 7th, 2009 by Michael Janzen and filed in Issue 13: Technology and Simple Living

…and we’re back!

Sorry for the long silence… some momentum had been lost but has now been regained albeit at a slightly different pace. Small Living Journal will now move to a monthly rhythm and will be published on the first of each month beginning in January 2010. If you have topics you’d like the contributors to focus on please contact us.

This issue’s focus is on how technology impacts simple and small living. There are four articles in this issue:

Gadgets and Simple Living: Is it worth the cost?

Posted December 7th, 2009 by Tammy "RowdyKittens" and filed in Issue 13: Technology and Simple Living

image from Apple.comIt’s time for me to make a confession: I absolutely love gadgets. I don’t buy gadgets very often, but lately I’ve been fascinating about purchasing an iPhone.

On one hand, I see the usefulness of the iPhone. It’s a phone, camera, iPod and has amazing applications. If I purchased an iPhone, I could reduce the amount of stuff I carry around everyday. Also, being able to connect with friends and family with the touch of a few buttons is pretty cool.

On the other, hand what about the cost? On average iPhone plans run about $1,500 per year.

And I wonder about the implications of feature creep?

What do you think? Do gadgets, like the iPhone, enhance the concept of simple living? And are they worth the cost?

You can learn more about my downsizing journey by reading my blog, RowdyKittens, or following me on Twitter.

My Other Side of Technology vs Smaller Living

While I mostly love the way technology has progressed, I do have a couple of complaints about it. Like most, I enjoy the great benefits of technology for smaller living. I have written about these in some of my other articles here so I won’t repeat myself, but in general you can pack tons of music onto a tiny mp3 player, keep your e-books on a your computer and/or have a cell phone that will do nearly everything your computer can do. However, to be perfectly honest, there are some unpleasant experiences I have had in regards to technology when it comes to small, simple living…

For instance, I recently got rid of my land line in favor of a cell phone so I could have more privacy…only giving the number out to family and a few friends. I got sick of the phone ringing every night at suppertime with telemarketing calls. Even though I had an answering machine, I still hated the disturbance. Fussy me!! Anyways, I went to my provider of choice and picked out this fancy cell phone that did everything but tie my shoes…it did emails, text messaging, had applications for all kinds of things, games, surfing the net, shopping lists…a whole variety of convenient things. The problem was when I got it home, I got a crappy signal and couldn’t use if for my original intention which was…DUH…a phone! Now, I thought, that was just taking things a bit too far :)

So, I went back and they let me get a different phone. That one had the same problem plus it was so complicated that it made my head spin!! I finally ended up with a very simple cell phone, but even though I got the simplest, just plain phone they had, I still had to make 3 calls to customer service to put a lock on anything that had to do with surfing the net, emailing or text messaging, lest I get charged again for something I didn’t even know I used!!!

There are a whole list of places I like to go that don’t even give me enough of a signal to use  my phone. I like to take country drives with a picnic lunch and my camera, but if I got stuck somewhere, what good would this great technological gadget do me? I can’t even get a signal at my parents house which is far from a remote town!

My plans for simple living after retirement include someplace quite remote where I can get away from all the traffic, people and noise I have been living with everyday while I was trying to make a living, aka, a dying as some people would put it! Those places generally don’t have much of a signal. I have a friend that must drive to the top of a nearby mountain to get her cell phone messages or call out because she doesn’t get any signal at her cabin or anywhere on her property of 50 acres. What if she had an emergency?

I will want to have access to online so I can keep in touch with my family and friends the way I love to. This might be fairly difficult too. Getting cable for internet service is not always available, leaving me with the basic inconvenience of dial-up!! That means a land line again. I mean, I know dial-up is still internet service, but once you get spoiled with a fast connection, dial-up is like Morse Code!

My next complaint is that some of this technology is not easy to learn and it can be totally frustrating to simple folks like me! When things go bad, they can really go bad…like getting a computer virus or your computer crashing and losing all your stuff. It can be anything but convenient to fix this situation! It can make you so mad you swear you will never deal with any of it again, but then you do – because when it is convenient it’s damn convenient :) :)

So, even though I will probably never do without any of these conveniences, technology can be as much of a headache as it is an asset :(

Tiny Tech

Is there such a thing as too much technology?  To me the whole point of simpler living is getting closer to this planet that we call home.  Right now we are so far removed from nature that we can not see if we even are causing any damage.  So instead of fixing what we are doing, we bicker about whether or not we’re inflicting any harm at all and then cram our lives with even more technology and gadgets.

I am no technological wizard and until I am able to design a house that cleans itself, makes my breakfast, and does my laundry, I think I’ll have to settle for conveniences that are readily available.  But to fit it all into a tiny house could be a challenge.

However, I’m sure that when living in a tiny area, it would help to keep clutter at bay by incorporating a few luxuries.  I know that last winter, at the beginning of the remodel that never ends, when I spent almost every minute in my 13′ x11′ bedroom, it would have been nice to have a Kindle e-book reader, so that I wasn’t tripping over boxes of books.  Or a scanner so that I wouldn’t have to have a file cabinet.  Or even just a proper closet in which to put all of my crap would have been nice!

I do know that when I design the tiny house of my dreams, it will have no tv.  No movies or sitcoms to suck my life force out of me.  Instead, I plan on taking my life and doing something meaningful with it, even if it’s only meaningful to me.


Technology, Sustainability, and Human Evolution

Posted December 7th, 2009 by Michael Janzen and filed in Issue 13: Technology and Simple Living

I have a bit of a growing love/hate relationship with technology. I’ve been making my living online for over a decade now so I’ve become a bit of a computer geek; but I’ve also begun to recognize that all this cool stuff is a dangerous double edged sword.

One one hand all the information channels (web, phone, television, radio, etc) bring us closer together it seems to do it in cyberspace and not in person. Some people are able to continue to make offline connections but it seems bulk of our personal relationships have moved toward online interactions. I would also argue that all our faceless interactions distract us from the real people around us. It’s a common reality these days to have families disconnected at home while each surfs the web on their own computer, watching television in different rooms, text messaging and chatting with their distant disembodied friends.

But technology is also an amazing tool for accessing information and reaching out to people you would never otherwise meet. I run into this everyday while blogging and have made really great connections with people from around the globe who share my values and enjoy exchanging ideas. So while I have a lot of harsh things to say about technology and human connections I can also clearly see how it’s become a powerful tool for bettering the world.

Clearly we need to find a balance between too much and too little technology to achieve simpler lives. I will actually go as far to describe our current predicament as a critical time in human evolution where we must choice to use our cleverness to coexist with our surroundings of face extinction. My logic is simple. Since it is impossible for a something to grow at exponential rates without end inside a closed system, the growth must at some point reach the confines of the closed system. When this happens growth is stopped suddenly causing a major disruption.

Let me bring that abstract logic back to reality… I basically just said that if humans continue to grow in number and continue consuming at an increasing rates we’re going to run into serious trouble when we finally hit a point where out cleverness can’t outwit the confines of our planet.

But humans ARE clever animals. We’ve learned to manipulate our surroundings to the point where we’ve been able to virtually extend the size of our closed system… in other words through the exploitation of petrochemicals we’ve been able to produce quantities of food far beyond what the normal environment can support. Petrochemicals have also catapulted us forward in all areas of technology and we now sit on top of a vast wealth of knowledge.

The problem of course is that simply due to greed we’ve never really had a strategic plan for how we would cumulatively use all this great black stuff. Instead we’ve allowed a few people to get stinking rich off the stuff while the vast majority continues to pretend that we aren’t running out. No one can really say when we’ll run out of gas, and those who probably can probably won’t simply because it would cause too much trouble for them now (seems logical).

Some people say we’ve already reached peak, others still say peak oil production is 10 to 20 years away. I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter because the right choice is obvious. What matters is that we have a choice to use technology to better our lives while finding a way to live in balance with the all the life around us. In fact I’d argue that it’s easier to do this than living the lifestyles many of us still currently live. The hardest part is breaking free.

Simple sustainable living and technology can coexist but a delicate balance must be maintained in order for us to achieve the goal of a sustainable life. Some would say that turning our backs to technology is the only way to truly live in balance with nature but I think our specie has come to far for that now. I think we can use our cleverness and what we’ve learned so far to slow down and find a sustainable way to live.

The trick to the success of this wild dream is that each of us must take it upon ourselves to seek our own sustainable existence. I don’t think we can wait for government and I can’t imagine we can expect much more from the billionaires that really run the show than we’ve already seen from them in the past.

The only piece of the equation we each have control over it ourselves. Choose wisely and evolve.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter, and visit my design blog, Tiny House Design. You can also read my bio at