A book for Engineers as well as Gardeners

Better Off and Animal, Vegetable, MiracleI hope this is coherent. It’s been a long week after a long weekend and it’s not over yet. Nevertheless, I managed to finish Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle today. The book is about Kingsolver and her family as they move to Appalachia (from Arizona) and attempt to eat local food for a year.

Although the concept is interesting, the book didn’t interest me until the end (when Kingsolver talks about the difficulty of getting people to change the world and turkey procreation), which was too little too late. I was surprised because I’ve heard great things about it from at least three people.

I’ve decided that the people who love Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are Gardeners. You know the type. They swoon over winter seed catalogs, talk about soil pH, and give away hundreds of squash in the fall. To me, though, lettuce all tastes the same, a zucchini and a cucumber are basically identical, and I like to watch Japanese beetles. I will never be a Gardener, even if I do occasionally garden. Luckily, I have Maggie around to handle that sort of thing. I’m much more of an Engineer. I like building things instead of growing them and solving problems that involve short bursts of creativity rather than marathon efforts over a season.

I must not be the only one, since Eric Brende took on a similar challenge but faced it much differently. Instead of focusing on food, Brende looked at technology and decided that it was too difficult to determine what was good and bad about it while he was so reliant on it. He took his wife to a small Amish-like community and they attempted to determine how little technology was necessary to live a happy life. The result is Brende’s book, Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology.

I think my favorite part about Better Off is that Brende starts off thinking about technology and ends up realizing that it has very little to do with technology and a lot to do with him and his wife. There’s no universal answer to the question “is this gadget a good addition to my life?” This sort of introspective evaluation of a lifestyle is very attractive to me.

Since reading the book, I find myself wondering what I can do without rather than assuming that because the technology is there, I should use it. When it comes down to it, dishwashers are kind of annoying. Cars are even worse. I might not be willing to give them up, but I can figure out when it makes sense to use them and when it doesn’t.

I think even Gardeners will appreciate this type of message, although they might apply it to different things than I do. I definitely recommend picking up Better Off… if you can tear yourself away from your seed catalogs.

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