Eric Brende perfectly remembers the moment when the "seeds of his discontent" towards technology were planted in his brain. He was a teenager and his father, a doctor, had one of the first word processors, in which he wrote scientific articles. "The machine was giant," Brende recalls. "It was like a huge safe, and he spent a lot of time making it work. I was supposed to help him buy time, but he didn't. And all my father's attention was devoted to this machine rather than his family," he explains,
Brende studied at Yale University and later wanted to graduate from the center of the technological universe, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). "I wanted to infiltrate; should be part of the system if it wanted to have some opportunity to change it," he explains now, in conversation with THE COUNTRY during the World Information Technology Congress (WCIT) held last week in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. And it was at MIT that he thought that the best fieldwork he could do about the consequences of technology on human life was "literally in the field, among the Amish.
The main lesson you learned, Brende explains, "was to turn around our basic assumption that technology makes your life easier and leaves you time to do what's really important. What I discovered is that the Amish have more free time than we do and their lives are much richer"
Brende and his wife Mary spent a year living in one of these communities, known for their simple lives and totally estranged from any technology. The main lesson they learned, he explains now, "was to turn around our basic assumption that technology makes your life easier and leaves you time to do what's really important. What I discovered is that the Amish have more free time than we do and their lives are much richer." The couple found it especially "satisfactory and rewarding," Brende explains, working in the field, "because it integrated all kinds of human activities that we now pack in separate compartments: you have social relationships, you talk, you do exercise, educate your children, connect with nature...". They found the lack of a fridge especially hard - "we had to cook every meal from scratch and leave no leftovers" - but they didn't miss the TV, the car or the phone. Brende denies that this absence disconnected them from the world: "It's quite the opposite. You're disconnected from the media, but the media is not reality, the media is between you and reality. We've reversed the natural order of things."
When he left the Amish community, Brende wrote a book, Happy Disconnection: Turning off the technology switch to explain everything he learned from his experience. Now, 15 years later, he prepares to publish another about his family's adaptation to modern life but still living with the philosophy of the Amish, that is, a simple life in the middle of a modern city but with the only help of technology that can not replace any human activity: a fridge and a landline,
"I raised three children in the middle of the city of St. Louis with no car, no television, no mobile, no Internet... A lot of technologies do things that we actually do better on our own, and that's why we've dispensed with them." The Brendes saved a few years ago to be able to pay for a house, so they don't have a mortgage, and their biggest expense is food: "I think a lot of people are immersed in a life that's more of a kind of hamster wheel, where they make money to pay the cost of things they don't need an. We live on the threshold of poverty but we also live a richer life than the people around us. I make the money I need to buy the kind of things I really need to live, especially food."
Brende is dedicated to selling homemade soup at a local market, and also has a pedal taxi because it loves, counts, being fit, having conversations and seeing the city. He only connects to the Internet to work on his book, from the municipal library, and for a certain amount of time, "to avoid losing it." Mary and Eric Brende, during their stay with the Amish.
Former Wired magazine editor, Kevin Kelly, has described Brende as one of the "smartest" people he's ever met. His speech is indeed calm, coherent and brilliant, and seems happy with his atechnological life, but he recognizes one problem: the socialization of his children. When the eldest turned 18, the first thing she did was get hold of a smartphone, indicating that obviously not having it was a problem. "I think they have benefited more from this than my wife and I, but they are the ones who have least appreciated it, especially in adolescence," he admits. "Until my daughter turned 18 she was a beautiful girl, living at the time, who was nice to have at home, but as soon as she had her mobile she became irritable, introverted and addicted to that phone... and it was overnight," he explains. "But we've stood firm," he adds,
Brende doesn't think it's necessary to end the technology, but it does recommend limiting its use. "I think all of you could live an easier life if you could disconnect," he says, and stop living with a downhand, always waiting to receive and broadcast information on our mobiles, "as in a zombie movie."