Why We Should Make Time for Low-Tech

I just spent nine hours in front of my computer.  Again.  I took only three short breaks, and spent maybe ten minutes outside.  I even ate lunch at my desk.

I know this isn't healthy, but still it happens much too often.  Maybe it does for you too.  And now we're getting our kids ready for distance learning, which will require them to spend hours a day in front of a computer.

Before school starts and life gets busier, let's take some time to live with less technology.

typewriter and laptop

Technology has almost always been identified with progress, and is almost always considered positive – the revolution that will change the world.  And I certainly use technology.  I don't publish this blog on parchment, after all, and I'm not keeping cool in this August heat by means of a servant wielding a palm branch.

But as we keep breaking boundaries and changing the way things work, sometimes we lose sight of the fact that some of the best (and healthiest) solutions are low tech.

A pointed lesson

I'm going to use what I think is an urban myth to illustrate, because it really does make my point.  (That's an awful pun too, as you'll see.  Sorry.)

It was the 1960s, and NASA was having trouble coming up with a reliable replacement for the pen.  You see, in space, with no gravity and no air pressure, pens don't work very well, which is bad news for astronauts who need to keep a log or do some calculations.  Millions of dollars went into research to develop a zero-gravity pen.

The Russians, faced with the same problem in their space program, used a pencil.

What's the lesson?  Sometimes the best solution is the easy one.  Sometimes we complicate the problem by looking for a new, high tech solution.  Sometimes, when we're busy using our smart phones to look up yet another piece of trivia, we forget to pay attention and think.  We tend to fall for the newfangled, designed-for-a-problem-we-didn't-really-have gadget, instead of simply using the tools that have worked in the past and still work just fine.

I'm reminded of people my age or older who swear they can't get by without their _______ (fill in the blank with your favorite piece of modern technology), even though they lived the majority of their lives perfectly well in the pre-smart phone, pre-Internet world.  How did we ever manage to live productive, independent adult lives in the "olden days?"

Our kids are growing up even more dependent on the latest-and-supposedly-greatest tech than we are, and it might be good to take a step back to a less mechanized way of life before we hook everyone up to a virtual classroom for distance learning this fall.

Maybe we need a little vacation from modernity.

I'm thankful for many modern technologies, but there are always consequences to our desire for ever more speed and convenience.  Those consequences too often include: 

  • uncounted tons of plastic waste and toxic electronic waste
  • dissatisfaction with last year's technology and the constant pursuit of the next big thing
  • a skewed work/home balance
  • an unhealthy tendency to substitute virtual activity for real-world physical activity
  • a lot less intimacy and connection with our families, friends, neighbors, and communities

I don't like the sound of any of that.

5 low-tech activities your family will enjoy

1.  Go camping.

Okay, maybe it's too late to plan a camping trip before school starts.  You can still do some of the wonderful things you would do while camping, such as:

  • cook and/or eat outside
  • take a hike
  • listen to the birds and the wind in the trees
  • watch a sunset
  • stargaze (use binoculars if you have them)

2.  Use human power.

Before machines became a constant part of our lives, most of us were in better shape physically.  You don't need a gym to:

  • leave the car in the garage and walk or bike where you need to go
  • take the stairs
  • wash your car with a bucket of suds and some elbow grease
  • pull some weeds and sweep your garage, patio, and sidewalks
  • forgo appliances that chop vegetables, shred cheese, or mix batter

3.  Play without electricity.

Want entertainment?  Turn off computer and video games and put away your smart phone while you:

  • break out the board games and jigsaw puzzles
  • bring out paper and crayons and scissors and glue
  • get creative with the millions of pieces of Lego in your child's room
  • knit, crochet, draw, or paint
  • read a book

4.  Reduce waste and emissions.

Our parents and grandparents learned to be comfortable and meet their needs without a lot of technologies we take for granted.  Try these lower-tech replacements:

  • use an electric fan rather than air conditioning
  • hang clothes to dry
  • ditch paper towels and napkins and buy or make reusable alternatives
  • quit bottled water and soda and drink sun tea instead
  • take advantage of daylight by sleeping and rising earlier

5.  Make connections low tech.

Sure, telephones have been around for a long time, but with party lines and expensive long-distance costs, our ancestors did not spend hours on the phone every day.  Instead:

  • remove alerts, and check your email and phone messages only two or three specific times per day
  • ban phones at mealtime and share a conversation
  • meet your neighbors (you can still practice social distancing)
  • hand write a letter
  • snuggle with your pet, partner, or child (or all of them at once)

I promise that a few days spent in a lifestyle that was normal 40 or 50 years ago won't be the hardship you might imagine.  In fact, I think you'll find it quite refreshing.  And you definitely won't get so cramped up from sitting for nine hours!

Updated April 2023


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