In the comments section of our our post on dishwasher-safe products, there was an interesting debate on the merits of hand washing dishes. Some readers were surprised by the amount of thought and effort we seem to expend trying to avoid hand washing cookware.
I am an advocate of technology in the service of simple living. There is physical clutter in our lives, and there is time clutter. Often, judicious use of technology can help us tame the latter.
The Shakers, known for their focus on simplicity in all aspects of life, believed labor was sacred. To that end, they developed numerous labor-saving devices:
- metal pen nibs
- the flat broom
- a prototype washing machine
- the circular saw
- waterproof and wrinkle-free cloth
- a metal chimney cap that blocked rain
In fact, the Canterbury community in New Hampshire owned one of the first cars in the state. They also embraced the use of electricity long before their non-Shaker neighbors.
Good technology has the capacity to simplify our lives and empower us. It reduces time clutter. The arrivals of the washing machine and the electric iron were landmark events in the history of women’s liberation. By reducing the amount of time women spent on chores, they increased the amount of time women could spend on other activities.
By contrast, it’s easy to see that bad technology just gets in the way. We are seduced by the false promises of a food dehydrator. In the end, we are not only parted from our money, but we are left with a colony of unused unitaskers multiplying in the recesses of our kitchen cabinets. From the very beginning, you didn’t have a chance — by the time you bought the seemingly innocuous wannabe waffle-maker, the war was already lost.
Simple living is about clearing away the obstacles in our lives, including the unwanted tasks. We can only do this if we are honest with ourselves about whether that labor-saving device really justifies the space it consumes.
This post was originally published in May 2007.