Well, this is it...the conclusion of this blog. If you have just started reading, I encourage you to also read some of the older posts - the pre-project posts starting back in December 2006.
Thank you for reading and all your comments. Cheri, Denise, Karen, Teri, Deborah, Tomasina...and many more...thanks for posting comments regularly. They were very helpful and brought out some really interesting points.
I must admit...I am not sad about ending the blog. Although I think it served its purpose as a wonderful format for sharing ideas with a wide and diverse audience, it is yet another item on the technology "to do" list which I can now remove. I'm ready to spend that "blogging" time (when, exactly, did "blogging" become a verb anyway?) reading or practicing the piano...as in the good old project days.
My parting words: If this project has been intriguing to you, give it a try. You don't have to do the whole pre-1950s deal - just give up the cell phone or television for a week and see how you feel. You may really miss these things and have a new appreciation for there use...or you may not miss them at all. Either way, your perception of technology will change - and that's a good thing.
What now? I'm not sure. In the short term, I am going to wrap up the documentary about the project and graduate at the end of April. I think my energies this summer will be spent trying to figure out where to go from here with the project...the only thing I know for sure is that in some form I will continue to investigate the impact of technology on our lives.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007
On February 22nd the Ann Arbor News published an article about the project. I did what most people would do - I told my closest friends and family about it and bought several copies. I hoped that the article would encourage others to evaluate their interactions with technology. That was it - as far as I knew, the news of the project would travel only as far as the reaches of the local Ann Arbor News.
What I did not know is that the Ann Arbor News belongs to a "news sharing" network...these days that news sharing takes place over the Internet. By the next morning, the Chicago Tribune, the Seattle Times, and the Wilmington Star had picked the up article. To date, about 11 major newspapers around the country (that I know of) have published the story. As a result, about ten radio stations have called asking for interviews, as well as one television station. There was even an inquiry from NBC New York (which hasn't gone anywhere). I have also received numerous letters from people, ranging from people who remember the pre-1950s days well and want to share their story to those who are doing research in similar areas.
How do I feel about all this? Initially, I felt ridiculous. I am not stupid. I know there are so many people out there living much more simply than I did for those 30 days. I heard this story about a guy who went to live in the woods for a year with only a mug and a frying pan...and he TRIED to get some publicity...but no one wanted to write up the story. And then, of course, there are monks and nuns from many different religions who interact with very little technology their entire lives. And let us not forget the Amish. So I really started thinking about why my project really seems to be something that the media is interested in. Here's my conclusion:
The publicity is a result of the project being so ORDINARY. I'm just a thirty-something woman from the midwest who has a husband, dog, and a modest house...I teach a couple days a week and play the piano...and I gave up a lot of technology for 30 days and discovered that I was happier by doing so. That's it. End of story. It's something that people can relate to. Most people are not going to live in the woods for a year or become a monk or nun or turn off their electricity forever. But if there is a way to live a little more simply in their current situation, then that idea is appealing.
I also think that the story caught on because it was an interesting project that did not have a religious or political agenda. I went out of my way to not affiliate myself with any religion or political party during the media interviews. If I had associated myself with a specific religion or political party, than people on the "other side" would have been excluded (by their own doing). It is just my direct experience that once you place a label upon yourself, you also take ownership of everything that comes along with that label...and you separate yourself from those who do not share your label...whether you intend to do so or not. I did this project because I feel that we, as HUMANS, are just tired of being so overwhelmed with technology. I didn't want anything to get in the way of that basic message.
I couple of people accused me of being "soft" with the technology issue...that had I really spewed out the facts and statistics about the harm that technology does to society, the media would not have had any interest...that the media had interest because it was a "cute, little" project. Absolutely - I completely agree with that accusation. However, I garentee that had I taken a much more academic, hardcore fact approach to the issue, people would not have been influenced to change or evaluate their technology habits. I would not have received letters from random people across the country saying that because of hearing about the project and how happy I was by living without some of the technology, they decided to give up their cell phone or television or email. What is the use of spewing facts if people aren't stimulated to reflect and change? And the idea of the project was not to say that all technology is harmful - it was simply to say: take a step back from it, evaluate what's helpful or harmful in YOUR life, then make changes accordingly. That's all.
So we'll see what happens from here. Just yesterday, one month after the publication of the Ann Arbor News article, I received two phone calls - one from a radio station in Memphis, TN; the other from a radio station in Wichita, KS...so the story is somehow still circulating. Yet another unintended part of the project...the media interest in the story could be an entire research project.
Day 10 - Results - Overall
The above picture is of the liquid heaven that I drank out of a glass bottle for the month of February - milk from a local dairy called Calders. They still sell milk in glass bottles at the local grocery stores, and they still provide home delivery. Unfortunately, I discovered their home delivery service after the project was complete...I may still give it a try one of these days.
Pre-project, I got a hold of a 1949 Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and my mom loaned me a 1936 cookbook. I also looked up several recipes in some 1940's magazines (such as Ladies Home Journal and Home Companion). The recipe that sticks out in my mind was called "Chicken French Toast with Peas" (found in a Ladies Home Journal). It is exactly as it sounds - basically, french toast stuffed with chicken and a side of peas. My intentions were to try several of these recipes...the reality is that I tried very few.
My focus ended up being more of an avoidance of certain foods than trying new ones. I avoided fast food. Some people commented that this was inaccurate - that there were fast food restaurants. I discovered through research that, although there were what would have been considered "fast food' pre-1950s, it really didn't take off until McDonald's perfected the fast food technique in the mid-1950s...and even then, the average town may not have seen a fast food place until the 1960s. So, I decided just to avoid all fast food places altogether. I didn't eat much of it before the project, but I did enjoy an occasional Frosty and fries.
One of the biggest food effects of this project wasn't so much the food itself as it was how I purchased food. Like fast food restaurants, chain, corporate grocery stores were around pre-1950, but they were not the commonplace quite yet. So in an attempt to stay as pure as possible, I only shopped at small, local grocery stores. And, when possible, I tried to purchase locally produced foods. Also, like my gained awareness of fuel consumption, I also became very aware of my food consumption throughout this project...part of this awareness was a result of having to use cash and budget, therefore I became much less wasteful, but a bigger part was really analyzing everything I purchased and ate. What I discovered was that most food has become so chemically altered since the 1950s that it was truly impossible to
eat like people did pre-1950s. I tried my best by purchasing "organic" produce, but even doing so, it wasn't the same as pre-1950 days where people had their own gardens and canned so that they would have home grown, 100% chemical free vegetables in depths of winter. It is my understanding (please correct me if I am wrong) that the label "organic" doesn't mean 100% chemical free...it just means that the produce complies with the standards of what is considered organic enough to receive the "organic" label - whatever those standards may be.
One of the most interesting things I did in terms of food was actually visit the Calder's Dairy Farm (the farm that still sells milk in glass bottles and does home delivery). Someone who has worked their for 15 years gave me an amazing tour of the farm. I got to meet their cows (every one of them had a name), see some of the farming technology that they do incorporate in their farming, and talk to them about the Calder's philosophy. Here's is a quote from one of their brochures:
"The trucks may get newer, the equipment more high tech and people will change, but our mission remains the same; to produce premium dairy products in the perfect container, a glass bottle, delivered to your door with a smile!"
It was so refreshing to see a company that has such a wise balance on the use of technology. They are not anti-technology by any means. They definitely use technology that benefits the farm as long as it does not harm or distress the cows. However, they are only willing to incorporate this technology if their primary mission is not at risk of being compromised. They are happy remaining small and local and producing a quality product and providing quality service...ahhh, the good old days. I was grateful to meet and thank the cows that produce my milk and, for the first time in a long time, really get in touch with the origin of the food that I consume.
Day 9 - Results - Media
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Appliances...there were two biggies that I will write about - the dishwasher and the clothes dryer. Facts: the dishwasher and the dryer were invented pre-1950, but after doing research on these items (which included many personal interviews), I realized that the were not yet the commonplace for someone from my socioeconomic background.
I can honestly say that I enjoyed doing dishes. Now, keep in mind that only my husband and I live in our house, and we didn't have any big dinner parties during the 30 days...perhaps my tune would be different in a different situation. What I did discover in my present situation is that doing the dishes by hand gave me space to reflect...or not reflect. Basically, the times I did the dishes was space without intellectual stimulation or noise. It was a very simple form of "manual labor"; something that in this age of technology, many of us do not get the opportunity to experience. And my experience was that a little bit of manual labor provided a nice balance to my body/mind/spirit...Our minds are constantly getting workouts with the volumes of information that modern day technology delivers.
Once a trainer at the gym noticed that I was using this particular arm toning machine every day, with heavy weights and many repetitions. His advice to me was to rotate the toning machines...one day work on my legs, the next day work on my abs, then the next day work on my arms. He said that because I wasn't giving my arms a rest, the arm muscles never had a chance to actually grow and strengthen. The muscles actually grew the most on the "off" days. I think that this idea can be applied to our minds...it was during the "off" times, such as the times I spent doing the dishes by hand, that my mind truly had the opportunity to grow and strengthen.
There was also the question of whether or not these appliances actually live up to their "time saving" reputation...in the case of the dishwasher, I realize that I only save a small amount of time using the dishwasher (again, this is based on my present situation). I normally give the dishes a quick rinse before putting them in the dishwasher, and I often try to unload them a little to early, when they are not completely dry yet. So I often find myself hand drying some of them as well. By the time I figure in these redundant actions that have become such a integral part of my routine, I actually save very little time by using the dishwasher. Along this same line of thought, these redundant actions also result in excessive water usage. I know I use less water by hand washing the dishes.
On a humorous note, I was really bad at washing dishes by hand when I first started to do so. I thought I was doing a good job until I went to dry them and discovered hidden, dried food under the rims of bowls and on the backside of pans. So I practiced...I really had to pay attention. And that made me realize that so few activities force us to pay attention. We don't have to pay attention when we write - misspelled words and incorrect grammar automatically pop up in red and green, respectively. We often don't have to pay attention when someone is speaking about a topic; if we are really interested, we go home and pull up volumes of information on the Internet. And we don't have to pay attention when the dishes are being cleaned in the dishwasher; we trust that the dishwasher is getting them clean. It was refreshing to have to really pay attention.
All the above can also apply to line-drying clothes. We rigged a line in our basement...Michigan weather is a little less than ideal this time of year for drying outside (although pre-1950s, many would dry clothes outside year round regardless of the weather) And it is true...clothes stay in better shape in the absence of the dryer.
Just as hand washing dishes conserves water, line-drying clothes conserves electricity. To what extent, I don't know. But my curiosity has been sparked, and I will probably continue personal research in this area. And because the clothes will stay in better shape longer, line-drying also reduced the consumption of the clothes.
So although I the project is over, I've continued to wash dishes by hand (I think I did run one dishwasher load when I cleaned out the fridge). I must admit - I did use the dryer after the last load of wash. Like my return use of the credit card, I'm not exactly sure why I felt the need to use the dryer again. Maybe because it was there...looking lonely next to the washer? I know, poor excuse...but really, isn't that why we use a lot of this technology?
Day 8 - Results - Food
Monday, March 12, 2007
This blog about using cash instead of using a credit card or ATM could be very short - Bottom line: I saved $300 during the month of February, and I attribute that savings directly to only using cash...going to the banker during banking hours, taking out a set amount of cash, then budgeting that cash as needed until the next planned bank visit.
It's not that I was a "big spender" prior to the project...I would just fall into what I call the Target Trap; i.e. go into Target for some toothpaste, walk out of Target $150 later with some greeting cards, a small vase, some socks, trail mix, and that latest and greatest book I'd been meaning to read...oops, I forgot to buy the toothpaste! The Target Trap (please feel free to insert your chain all-purpose store of choice) would happen to me about twice a month. I would get to the checkout with very little concern of the total checkout price because I knew I would be paying with the credit card...at that moment, there was no specific reason why I couldn't purchase all those somewhat "impulse" items.
During the project (using only cash) my spending habits really changed. Holding actual cash in my hand (something I hadn't really experienced for quite some time) made me much more mindful of how I was actually spending my money. One example: I became more aware of what my spending habits were supporting...i.e. I really tried to support local shops and grocery stores during the month and completely avoided corporate mega stores. Yes, the local shops were a little more expensive...that was okay - I just consumed less. It felt really satisfying to support the local economy. I also enjoyed the shopping experience that these local shops provided....friendly, helpful employees and quality products (even though the selection of products was only a fraction of the selection you would find at a corporate equivalent...but, really, do I need to be bothered with 30 different choices of mustard?)...more about grocery shopping when I write about food. You get the idea - by holding cash, money became "real"...something that in every transaction had an underlying effect on others...when using a credit card, reflection on these effects often came as an afterthought. However, throughout the project, they were right on the forefront every time I laid the bills and coins down on the counter.
I would normally go to the bank every third or forth day and take out about $50. I tried to budget between $10-$20 a day. For the first time in my life, this included budgeting gas. And for the first time in my life, I was forced to make a decision to not drive somewhere because I didn't have enough cash to put more gas in the tank. So I made alternate plans...I walked to town and went to the the library instead - it probably was better day than if I would have followed through with my original plans that involved driving somewhere. Wow! I do consume a lot of gas. I never thought I did. Work is reasonably close; so are most of my friends. However, it felt like I spent so much time putting gas in my car...because of my cash budget, I could never fill up (or even come close to filling up) - I liked to have a little reserve cash in case something unexpected came up the next day. I now really think about my gas consumption. This is a result of the project that I didn't anticipate.
In terms of the ATM, I actually didn't use the ATM much pre-project...but I now realize that just having it in my wallet gave me this extra feeling of "spending security"...if a place didn't take credit cards (such a rarity these days), I could always go around the corner and get cash from an ATM machine...i.e. there was always an avenue which assisted me in my consumption...whether I could truly afford to consume or not.
So the credit card and the ATM were tucked away in a dresser drawer for the month. It was great not having them in my wallet. With limited cash, I spent/consumed less, consciously spent/consumed when had to, and enjoyed the human interactions that occurred in the process...from the banker, to local grocer, to the guy behind the counter at the gas station...no pay at the pump!
Changes: The ATM remains in the drawer, the credit card is back in the wallet. I don't know why...I managed fine for 30 days without it...maybe I'll have another "credit card free" month in April.
Day 7 - Results - Appliances
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The above picture is of my designated "phone chair" I used throughout the month...I gave the old black rotary phone back to my parents, but decided to replace it with another corded phone (not rotary, of course).
Pre-project I would talk to about 8 people on the cell phone a day...ALWAYS while driving, running errands...I would use the cell phone in the house even though we have a land line. During the project, I was not only required to only use the land line, but I also did not have caller ID, call waiting, or a cordless phone. This meant sitting in that phone chair for every phone call...which was wonderful and has completely changed my perspective on talking on the phone.
I must admit - in the beginning there was some stress associated with not having access to my cell. Situations came up which would have been so easily solvable had I had my cell phone with me (such as trying to meet someone somewhere when there was a miscommunication about the location, being stuck in traffic and late for something - those type things). As these things came up, however, a couple of things happened: 1) I realized that there are always hidden solutions to "problems"...it just took a little creative thinking sometimes to figure them out...and my creative thinking had started to get a little bit rusty (actually a lot rusty) in the presence of all this technology that offers quick fixes, and 2) The situations I labeled as "problems" weren't problems at all...I know it sounds so cliche, but when I felt panic during those times that I couldn't contact someone immediately, the panic was quickly replaced with a sense of peace...I don't have my cell, there's nothing I can do, so why don't I just enjoy this moment of empty space that I'm in...I had lots of moments of empty space in the absence of my cell, and I believe that it's the deep peace felt in these moments that has motivated me to give up my cell permanently.
So throughout the month, I spoke with one, maybe two, people a day. I couldn't be multi-tasking while sitting in my phone chair, so I actually had to allocate time in my day for these conversations...and that was great! I would set up phone "dates" with friends and family (like "I can't talk now, but are you available to catch up tomorrow at 5PM?") and found myself looking forward to having these conversations. I also decided that "call waiting" is really obnoxious...seriously. I had it prior to the project and for the first week of the project. I would find myself in the midst of these conversations that I had looked so forward to and then "beep beep...beep beep...beep beep". The project rule, of course, was no answering the call waiting. But I caved. I was actually home for so few conversations that I couldn't stand knowing that someone was trying to get a hold of me and I was actually home to receive their phone call. How obnoxious! I think in the absence of all this technology I became hyper sensitive to how obnoxious some of it is...call waiting about tops the list for me. I had it turned off after the first week of the project, and it's not going to be turned back on again.
Caller ID is another interesting technology. We had caller ID pre-project, and I really thought I loved it. The phone would ring, and I would stare at the caller id for a moment as I contemplated "do I really want to talk to this person at this moment?" or "hmmm...caller "unkonwn"...probably solicitor...I'm not answering it.". During the project, without caller id, my physcial/mental reaction became so different when the phone would ring. Rather than that sense of dread I would sometimes experience was looked at who was calling, during the project, I would ALWAYS feel excitement when the phone rang. YIPPY! I'm home for a phone call...I haven't talked to a lot of my friends in a while...I can't wait to find out who's on the other end! And you know what, I found myself even being more polite with the solicitors...a little more human. If there is one thing I can say that is the biggest overall result of this project, it's that I feel more human in the absence of all this technology.
Changes in phone habits post-project:
The cell phone is gone...as I write that, for some reason I start to hear "ding dong the witch is dead" in my head. However, I've decided to keep it in my glove box with the car charger for emergencies on the road....but this will start in a few weeks as I have loaned the phone to a friend who has gone out of town - first time in 4 years without physically having a cell phone. Call waiting - gone. Caller ID - some of our phones still have it, but I do find myself paying less attention to it. Answering machine - back. I missed it...I'm away from the house a lot (probably a big difference from the average 1940's woman), so connecting with business-type phone calls was difficult. I welcomed the answering machine back.
I haven't really wrote any pointed advice, but I feel an obligation to with this topic: if you find yourself feeling annoyed or stressed when your cell phone rings, just stop using it. People will adapt to you not having one. I feel free and liberated and enjoying those times in the car or grocery shopping or where ever, where I can just enjoy the moment...if it's important, the person will call my home phone and leave a message.
Tomorrow: Credit Card/ATM vs. Cash - so interesting!
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
I had to include this picture...about a week before my project start, Alex bought this television. He had been wanting a flat screen television for a long time. So, he got it all set up, then left to go fly for 2 weeks. He was a little disturbed to come home to see that a blanket was covering it.
Ahh...television...the thing I thought I would miss the most during the 30 days. I cheated about three times...probably a total of three hours of television in the 30 days. Alex switched the TV to black and white during those times. Technically, I could have been watching black and white (on a limited daily basis) the entire month, but I felt that taking this step would have been a slippery slope into old TV habits.
So what did I do in its absence? Books....nine of them to be exact (all fiction novels). I also practiced the piano a lot...played some board games with my husband. I also listened to a lot of AM radio. This (the AM radio), perhaps, one of the most interesting results of no television.
One thing I did with the AM radio is picked a station that was in complete conflict with my beliefs (politically) and listened to that station religiously for the month of February. What a great experience! I'm not saying that I've changed the way I think politically....but prior to this project, I admit that I only listened to radio/watched shows that were on my "side". I think a lot of us do this. By exposing myself to ideas that were outside my comfort zone, I gained a greater understanding of the whole picture... I highly recommend doing this.
What was also interesting is how the radio and books really transformed into such entertainment in the absence of television. I would to sit down in my chair at 4PM everyday...I would make myself a cup of hot chocolate, then listen to a 1/2 hour radio show. And I now have a greater understanding of why I have yet to hear anyone say "The movie was better than the book"....the book is always better, isn't it? After reading so much fiction in such a short period of time and watching such a small amount of television/movies, I finally understand why: No matter how talented the movie producers are, they cannot match the scenes that go on in the mind as a person is reading the book...no matter how much technology is used or how much money is spent, they images in the human mind are just to amazing and complicated to replicate.
Perhaps the biggest enlightenment moment in relation to no television happened about three days into the project while I was taking a walk. All of a sudden these two squirrels jumped right out in front of me, stopped, looked at me, then started chasing in other almost in circles around me as I walked. I thought, "Why in the world would I want to sit in front of some screen (be it TV or computer) when I have this very entertaining sitcom going on right in front of me...AND I can actually engage with the characters!".
So, television habit changes...since the project has been over, I've probably watched one hour of television every other day. But it's different - 1) It now has to be very engaging to hold my interest (before, I would was not very discriminate about my show choices), 2) I have to be sitting up on the couch or chair to watch (before I would often fall asleep in front of it), and 3) I can not stand having it on as background noise (before I would have it on a lot just as noise)...if I feel the need for "noise", I either turn on the radio or sit down and actually reflect on why I feel the need to have background noise (the second being the most productive option).
On a side note, Denise commented yesterday about the relationship of technology and waiting (patience)...I am not a patient person. And I am not saying that removing a lot of these technologies has suddenly made me into a patient person...but as I continue to leave out many of things like cell phone and emailing friends, I feel that a transformation is taking place. Perhaps the biggest part in that is giving up my cell phone. For example, on the first day of the project I got into a traffic jam on the way to teach class and realized that I was going to be late. I immediately reached for my cell phone. When I realized that I didn't have it, nor would I have it for another 29 days, I immediately felt panic. Then once I realized that there was nothing I could do about the situation, I actually felt this enormous sense of peace...ahhhh, a few minutes to just sit in the car and breath. In this space, I realized that nobody was going to die if I was a few minutes late (even though my initial physical reaction was true panic). So, yes, I firmly believe that in so many ways technology does rob us of that ability of and actual serenity associated with waiting.
I am going out of town tomorrow to visit a friend, my nephew, and my niece and nephew-in-law, so I will be posting again on Saturday.
Day 5 - Results - Cell phone vs. Corded Home Phone