I’m inspired today by a good piece at Get Rich Slowly by Robert Brokamp on the high cost of modern gadgets. Mr. Brokamp points out that his iPhone, alone, costs him $1,251 per year, counting in the taxes he has to earn and pay beyond the $876 he’s paying to the iPhone folks, themselves.
I like the way he drills down into the whole cost of his iPhone rather than just its surface cost. However, I’d drill down deeper, into the lost opportunities for physical activity the iPhone or any gadget represents, and the lost opportunities for face-to-face sociability and community.
Let’s take an example. I’ve never had cable television. I’m almost 50. Averaging the cost of cable to about $40/mo, it looks like being cable-free has saved me about $12,000 over 25 years. Or, using Robert Brokamp’s pre-tax formula, more like $15,000 (I was in a low tax bracket when I was a self-employed artist). But that $15,000 is only where the costs of cable start, in my view.
If I had had cable television I’d likely have been watching close to the daily average of four hours of TV per day that Americans are reported to watch. That would be four hours a day spent sitting passively, not spent on running, hiking or doing Nia dancing, all of which make me physically fit and healthy, as well as happy. It would be four hours a day not spent interacting with friends and family and building my community, which community makes me happy. While there do exist some good TV shows on cable, getting involved with TV in general could set me up for a lot of lost opportunities.
Because I’m greedy for the best opportunities that life has to offer, I like to put my time and energy into people, rather than things, and into physical activities rather than electronic activities. For example, my husband and I spent last weekend helping our friends Colleen and Thad with projects around their house in the Gorge. Colleen and I painted her kitchen with a water-based, eco-friendly paint, and Thad and Thor manfully moved a huge load of bark chips around in the barn. The paint was a cheerful red called Empower. Periodically the men would wander in to get a beer, the brand on hand being called Simpler Times. We had so much fun being productive together (the kitchen looks beautiful! the barn is blanketed with sweet-smelling wood chips!) that we laughingly called our weekend “Being Empowered By Simpler Times”. And the weekend was electronics-free beyond the occasional cell phone call.
To be honest, I’m one of the happiest people I know. A number of people have told me I have an unusual amount of energy. I think a large part of my happiness and energy comes from limiting my use of technology. I blog with a laptop because I love to connect with people via writing, but I don’t need an iPhone or a Blackberry. I’m not compelled to follow the crowd or get distracted by the latest shiny object. Doing that would make me lose opportunities for the physical and social activities that drive my real happiness.