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Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology
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Sierra Magazine
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Sierra's January/February 2006 Let's Talk book selection:
Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology
A book by Eric Brende
Review by Jennifer Hattam

What it's about
It was a contrarian quest for an MIT student: to see how little technology is needed to get the most out of life. In search of an answer, Eric Brende and his new wife moved to an Amish-like community in rural Pennsylvania, where they traded electric lights for kerosene lamps, tap water for a pump and cistern, and desk jobs for sorghum farming. Somehow, more physical labor allowed for more leisure and, for the Brendes, a more satisfying lifestyle. At the experiment's end, they embarked on the biggest challenge of all: rejoining the modern world without abandoning their minimalist ideals.

Where to get it
Better Off is widely available at libraries and bookstores.

About the author
Eric Brende received a graduate degree in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992. He and his family now live in St. Louis, where Brende makes soap and drives a rickshaw.

Discussion questions
What did you think about the Brendes' time with the "Minimites"? Did it seem like a satisfying way to live, or one filled with hardships?

What technologies have had a positive impact in your life and/or your community? Which ones have had a negative impact?

Pick one technology (car, television, heating/air-conditioning system, etc.) to go without for a week, a month, or more. Report back to the group on your experience. How did you adjust your life to accommodate the change? What was frustrating about it? What was liberating?

Read an excerpt about the genesis of Brende's no-tech experiment.

Delve into the religious/spiritual aspects of his experience in an interview from Godspy magazine.

Calculate the amount of natural resources required to sustain your lifestyle.

Challenge yourself to go car-free for a day.

Find out ways to "live consciously, buy wisely, and make a difference."

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