Better Off—Flipping the Switch

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Better Off—Flipping the Switch on Technology 

book by Eric Brende Review by Denice Moffat

I’m always looking for lifestyle changes that will help people deal with everyday stress. Less stress means a longer life and fewer disease processes, so when my son-in-law gave us the book as a Christmas present it piqued my interest. I liked it. I’m always in the ongoing process of getting rid of all my “cows” to simplify things.  

The title says, “Two People, One Year, Zero Watts” written by Eric Brende © 2004. Eric is a Yale and MIT graduate and critic of modern technology who volunteered to give up technology by living with an Amish group out of St. Louis Missouri for 18 months.  

I’ve always been one to eat simply, grow my own stuff, and preserve for the winter months. Eric Brende married Mary and they had a baby during their stay with the Amish. They had no electric stove, refrigerator, running water, telephone, TV, computer or anything else that makes our lives easier.  

As a visitor, he was allowed a car, but they drove it only rarely during the 18 months he was there (once when his wife was in labor and in need of the midwife who lived five miles away and another time when they went in search of a home to move to after they left the community were to times discussed in his book.)  

The Amish had some very ingenious ways of converting appliances to horse-power or hand power. Mary loved sewing so learned how to use a treadle machine. I remember sewing on one of those as a child once. It was hard work and it really worked some interesting leg muscles.  

They learned how to till fields with horse-driven equipment and hand-threshed the wheat they produced. They also built barns and houses without power tools while they were there. They heated their house with wood, learned how to can foods, store meat in an ice room by harvesting the ice from a local pond, used a wringer washer, grew crops (pumpkins and sorghum), and sold what they grew to subsist with minimal technology within a community of loving people who barter for services.  

I had a friend once who purchased a new wringer washer machine just a few years ago through the Cumberland Store. I couldn’t believe it.  

I enjoyed his writing skills and reading about Amish politics, their religious beliefs and the differences they have between communities. This particular group of Amish people Eric labeled as “minimalists.” This community had a telephone booth (for emergencies and arranging the sale of crops) and allowed flashlights (because it took too long to light the kerosene lamp when wild animals were chasing the livestock.) Other Amish communities allow some additional technology. Some use power tools.

Eric currently is a rickshaw driver, soap maker and rents his basement out as a bed-and-breakfast.  

I would have liked to have heard more about how the women thrived in this community. At several points in the story, I was wondering how Mary’s pregnancy was coming along and how she survived all the heat and hard labor which was completed almost up to the very last moment of birth.  

I don’t think I would ever willingly give up my hot showers or electricity, but we are seriously thinking about a future home with solar power and alternative energy sources. It also makes me want to be a part of a community that is kind to the earth, uses alternative energy sources and has innovative and natural ways of farming.