The big news about iPhone 7 is the elimination of the earphone jack. With it, we also lose those crazy wires that fall all over the place, get tangled, and require twirling up in a fancy way every time you put them away. Another life annoyance is gone! Another tiny bit of progress in the world.
Remember the phonebook? Probably not. You used to need to have an entire kitchen drawer for it.Looking over the sweep of the last 15 years, it’s awesome to contemplate how much it has become possible to seem to live a minimalist life. I say “seem to” because it really is an illusion in many ways. We have as much or more stuff than we’ve ever had. The difference is that they are mobile applications rather than physical things.
What Makes Minimalism Possible
And this is my reaction to what might be FEE’s most popular article this year so far: David Veksler’s “Why I Rent a Tiny Apartment Rather than Buy a Big Home.” The minimalist movement loved it. I watched many videos on the topic and generally agree with them. There is something calming, clarifying, settling about living without much stuff around you. It brings a certain serenity to life.
I’ve certainly gone this direction. It seems like every year for the last ten, I’ve hauled away several contractor-sized bags of junk to the dumpster. It’s so enormously satisfying. To be sure, it can be a painful decision – as painful as the one I made in 1987 when I put 500 vinyl records in the dumpster. Yes, they took up 8 feet of shelf space and weighed a ton. Suddenly they were all gone, replaced by a few CDs. Then I began to accumulate too many of those. At some point, an entire chest of drawers filled with them went into the trash too.
Remember maps? You had a huge stack of them in the glove compartment of your car.Now all my physical music is replaced by... a laptop. And so it is with so many things in our lives. The bookshelves that used to dominate the townhouse of my youth now live in mobile applications. I have more books than ever! But they now take up no space and weigh nothing.
Remember the phonebook? Probably not. You used to need to have an entire kitchen drawer for it. Now it is gone. Remember physical newspapers? Every day, you had to save them or throw them away. Magazines, same. Oh, and file cabinets. You had to have them. They were gigantically heavy, even dangerous if they fell over. Now they are no more.
Remember our desks? They had to have compartments for everything. We had rolodexes, staplers, piles of paper and printers, white-out bottles, stacks of software cases and instruction manuals. We had materials we accumulated for research. We had archives of bills and envelopes and stamps. We had scissors, clocks, radios, globes, dictionaries, thesauruses, and huge sets of encyclopedias.
There were photo albums and boxes and boxes of photos we intended to put in albums but never did. And there were last year’s Christmas cards and maybe from many years previously.
Did I mention cookbooks? Oh my goodness. One for every style of food, every land, every purpose. How else are you going to find recipes? Now, it is one or two clicks.
Think of the house of the past. It was overrun with things to hold things and things to put in the things that hold things. It’s not that we were materialistic. This was all stuff we needed for life itself. Now all we must have is a spot for sleeping, a thing to heat cold food, an oven and a stove, some plates, and a few clothes. We are done.
Remember maps? You had a huge stack of them in the glove compartment of your car. As you drove, you would unfurl them and turn them every which way. They would eventually get ratty and fall apart. Maybe you had a compass too. And you had stacks of cassettes, eight track tapes, or CDs and CD changers. I can recall that people would buy gigantic machines to put in their trunks that would hold 250 CDs and you would control this apparatus from the dashboard.
It was nuts! Now it is all gone.
This is so lovely, so wonderful, so charming. Now we sit in clean, open, junkless rooms. And we tell ourselves: I’ve learned to do without! I’m figuring out the right way to live!
About those Pious Incantations...
The supposed materialism of capitalism has made it possible for us to live with ever less reliance on the physical world. Capitalism is making us more spiritual.Actually, let us not forget that this is not just a personal choice. We need not congratulate our pious ways too much. It is technology that has enabled this life. And what enables that? It is the market economy and the creativity made possible by entrepreneurship.
And here’s the great paradox. The supposed materialism of capitalism has made it possible for us to live with ever less reliance on the physical world. Capitalism is making us more spiritual.
Now if we could eliminate one last annoying cord, the cord that goes from our digital devices into the wall. Why do we still have that terrible thing?
Oh yes, electricity is provided by a public utility. Don’t count on its complete disappearance anytime soon. Innovation here is not dictated by markets, and, hence, we remain attached and plugged in.
P.S. Here is a beautiful video produced by BestReviews that illustrates how much about our worklife has changed over the years.