Apparently, ballpoint pens don’t work in space because of the lack of gravity. It is said that NASA, troubled by this realization, spent many millions of dollars designing a ‘space pen’ that could function in the absence of gravity. The Russians used a pencil.
Whether or not this story is true, it raises interesting questions about how technology is used in modern society. Are we, like NASA, complicating life and wasting money on superfluous technology?
To what extent could we, like the Russians, find much ‘simpler’ solutions to the problems we face?
What role should technology play in living the simple life? In the 21st century, are there times when our lives could be improved by using less technology, not more? Or by using technology smarter?
My love/hate with technology is around communications. I love my computer/internet connection and have acquiesced to having a mobile phone, but the trick is not feeling like you have to be available 24 hours a day to people. They’re just tools, not the master you’re enslaved to.
To be sure, there is no ‘rule’ to follow, as such, that can tell us when technology is appropriate and when it is not. There is much, much more to say on the question of technology in future posts. But for now I will close this post with following comment:
The simple life is not just beautiful, it’s necessary. Technology can play an integral role to simplify our lives.
Life is about choices. Making the choice to live life in a simpler way is something that is becoming a necessity.
Pablo Casals was a great Spanish cellist and conductor who is considered one of the greatest cellists of all time. He believed that music has the power to save the world.
When he was 93, he was asked why he continued to practice the cello three hours everyday. Pablo’s response to this question, in my view, is the hallmark of excellence. He said, “Because I think I am making progress and improving.”
The French novelist Marcel Proust one said, “The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” Learning gives us that new set of eyes.
Malcolm Gladwell has famously said, “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Although some may see recognition of excellence as an ultimate goal, the quest never really ends with the receipt of an award. The process of improvement continues.
The Diderot Effect term was coined by 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot who wrote the essay, “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown”. In the essay, he talks about receiving a beautiful new dressing gown as a gift. He loves it, but then he realizes it makes all of his other things look like crap. So what does he do? He goes out and buys new things. Diderot writes:
I was absolute master of my old dressing gown…but I have become a slave to my new one … Beware of the contamination of sudden wealth. The poor man may take his ease without thinking of appearances, but the rich man is always under a strain.
First world problems, I know. But essentially, this is how lifestyle inflation happens. We get used to having a certain fancy thing, and then we feel compelled to match the rest of our lifestyle to that thing. Most of us have been there.
Simply being aware that this phenomenon exists will probably go a long way toward preventing it. But over at Becoming Minimalist, writer Joshua Becker has a few other suggestions. Here are some of my favorite:
Analyze and predict the full cost of future purchases.
A store may be having a great sale on a new outfit—but if the new outfit compels you to buy a new pair of shoes or handbag to match, it just became a more expensive purchase than originally assumed.
Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
Stop trying to impress others with your stuff and start trying to impress them with your life.
Remind yourself that possessions do not define you.
Abundance of life is not found in the things that you own. Your possessions do not define you or your success—no matter what marketers will try to tell you.
The Diderot Effect is inspired by 18th century French philosopher Denis Diderot’s run-in with wealth and how he met with problems when he found that his new scarlet robe did not blend in with the poverty stricken surroundings of his home.
The Diderot Effect
In the 18th century, a French writer named Denis Diderot received a gift: a beautiful scarlet dressing gown. [Source: Consumption: Disciplinary approaches to consumption by Daniel Miller (page 121)].
The fabric was gorgeous. The colors were rich. The craftsmanship was spectacular.
Diderot immediately threw his tattered old gown away. He didn’t need it anymore. His new gown was breathtaking.
Of course, he needed to make a few extra purchases to accommodate that gown. In the past, if one of his books was covered with dust, he’d simply use his old gown as a rag. But he couldn’t wipe away dust with his beautiful new gown. He’d need to buy some dust rags.
When there was excess ink on his pen, he used his old gown to wipe it clear. He couldn’t do that with the new gown. He’d need to buy handkerchiefs, or perhaps he’d need better pens.
But those are small purchases, right? A small price to pay to maintain such a beautiful gown … right?
Diderot began to notice that the rest of his home looked shabby in comparison to the gown. His drapes were threadbare and faded, in contract to the rich colors of the gown. He’d need to replace them.
He often sat in a straw chair. He didn’t want the gown to snag on the fibers. His gown looked silly on such a cheap old chair, anyway. He bought a chair upholstered in leather, with colors that suited the scarlet tones of his gown.
He spent most of his day sitting at his desk, wearing the gown. But the gown didn’t match the old desk. It would be the 18thcentury equivalent of wearing a crisp Armani suit while sitting at a beat-up desk. So Diderot purchased an expensive new desk.
Once he had that desk, though, his paintings looked amateurish and faded. He needed more exquisite art on his walls, art that matched the desk and drapes.
Soon, Diderot plunged into debt.
Now fast forward to 21st century
We can spot similar behaviors in many other areas of life:
Buying a new mobile and then spending money on screen guard, even when the mobile comes with gorilla glass display.
After buying a new shirt and now you start disliking your old pants.
You buy a new couch and suddenly you’re questioning the layout of your entire living room. Those chairs? That coffee table? That rug? They all got to go.
Inspired by his research on The Diderot Effect, writer and researcher on behavioral psychology, James Clear, explores why we tend to overspend on things we do not need, sharing useful tips on how we can overcome this syndrome.
We have a tendency to want more, we are rarely looking to downgrade, to simplify, to eliminate, to reduce. Our natural inclination is always to accumulate, to add, to upgrade, and to build upon.
So What Happened to Diderot?
Diderot wrote an essay “Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown” outlining his regret. His beautiful scarlet gown had become a curse, not a blessing. He missed his faded, tattered robe, he wrote. Its folds fit comfortably around his body. Its dust and ink stains reflected the life of “a writer, a man who works.”
“I was absolute master of my old dressing gown,” Diderot said, “but I have become a slave to my new one.”
In Diderot’s words, “Let my example teach you a lesson. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence has its obstacles.”