Monday, September 12, 2011

Technology: Is It Really The Minimalist's Friend?

I was reading a minimalism themed blog today and something made me pause...

It's the statement that technology makes minimalism so much easier, with e-books and digital files that can replace a large amount of physical books, cds, photos, etc.

I agree... it does make life much easier to have all of my music, photographs, and writings on a computer. It makes life much easier to be able to go to the Internet for reference rather than having encyclopedias gathering dust on the shelf.

But is it truly minimalist?

I realize that everyone has their definition of what "minimalism" means these days, but most people concur on the idea that it is to have only what you really need and to cut out the excess.

Lets look to the dictionary:

Minimalism is listed only in regards to music, art and design - minimalism as a lifestyle is a fairly new use of the term.

So, how about the root - minimal?

min·i·mal   /ˈmɪnəməl/ Show Spelled[min-uh-muhl] adjective
1. constituting a minimum: a minimal mode of transportation.
2. barely adequate or the least possible: minimal care.

"barely adequate" seems to be a good baseline here - extreme minimalists live with not adequate - so barely adequate seems appropriate for non-extreme minimalists.

Having a library of photos, books and music at your fingertips is far more than adequate - it's having your cake and eating it too, as my mom would say. Is this a problem? Yes. Let me explain...

Minimalism as practiced today is a reaction to the common way of life in first world countries in the last century - and to a depressed economy. Sadly it has also become yet another source of over-inflated pride and a "I'm better than others" sort of chip on the shoulder. You know, like the episode of South Park when there was a giant cloud of smug hanging over the town? Hey, the show may be humerous and a bit gritty but their social commentary is often spot on.

Minimalism is a good idea. My concern is that people are doing it for the wrong reasons (see my post on buzzword/fad cause support), and thus will end up dropping it as they move through life and their focus changes. It isn't something that should be done on a whim, or because someone else is doing it and it seems like a good idea, or because it has become some sort of competition to who can have the least number of things. It certainly shouldn't be a way to sell books and make money.

In my opinion, and I know that others may or may not share it, minimalism is a tool to drag yourself out of consumerism, away from the tv, away from all the distractions and trappings of our culture. It's a way to find who you really are when there is nothing else to do but sit and think about it. Or not think about it, in the case of meditation.

You see, we are all being untrue to ourselves. We do what society says we should do, what our parents say we should do, what our friends and families and spouses say we should do. And even when they don't say it, we still do what we think they want, or what everyone else is doing. What we need is the freedom to be who we are when everything else is ripped away - whether we rip it away or someone else does. Only then can we go through the terrifying experience of not having a safety net - and it is terrifying - but it is also cleansing and focusing, it is baptism by fire. It will burn away all the slop and the bits and pieces within you that were put there by other people. This is not a quick or simple process - though starting it can be. It may need to happen multiple times, it can take half a lifetime, but casting yourself into the fire repeatedly will ultimately polish you into the true gem of who and what you really are.

Make no mistake - I'm not speaking from a point of having completed this path - I'm still on it. In fact, all of this had me thinking...

What if I could only have one book? One CD? One article of clothing? One pair of shoes? One tool for creating art?

What would they be?

Book: Patterns of Happiness (given to me by my great-grandmother) It's a small book, maybe 20 pages, with captivating illustrations and inspirations of inner growth and enlightenment.

Music: A burned CD including Me and a Gun by Tori Amos, Not an Addict by Jane's Choice, Whirlwind by The Gits, Good Riddance by Green Day

Clothing: For a woman it's easier, a dress can work. But if we discount basic articles of clothing and were talking about one decorative article, then a blue sari would be my choice.

Shoes: I'd prefer barefoot, second choice being moccasins.

Single tool for creating art: Either a pocket knife/multi-tool for carving wood or my little watercolor field set.

The importance of this exercises is not so much what you'd keep but why. That is the real beauty of minimalism - when you can't or don't want to have it all, you realize what is most important to you and you learn why you value those things thanks to the process of weighing your options.

My book choice come from my fascination with spirituality and my love of certain types of illustration, my music choices relate to connecting emotions to sound and my enjoyment of singing along, my clothing choice is because the sari can be worn so many ways and is a strikingly beautiful piece. My selection of shoe comes from respect for the historical Native American way of life.

My choice of a tool for art is perfectly in line with how I have always created - I use what is at hand and I shape it into my heartfelt vision. It doesn't matter what the tools are and it almost doesn't matter what the end result is. What matters is how I feel while I am creating.

If you've read many of my posts, you know that minimalism isn't my focus, but is part of a spectrum of ideas that are points on the road of my journey. I cannot look at minimalism simply as a lifestyle because it is reflected so heavly in every religion I am aware of. Our great teachers including Jesus and the Buddah not only speak of minimalism, they emphasize the lack of posessions as a key to unlocking their teachings. The minimalism that they speak of does not allow for keeping carbon copies of everything on a hard drive somewhere - it speaks of letting everything go. Completely, utterly, without back up or rewind, deleting everything until all that is left is you.

Ultimately our technology can help us and hinder us. It can allow us to drop our safety net of having things, but technology is a safety net of another color. Because of our technology, we can give up our things and think that we are making a huge internal change by doing so ... but we have the solid backup of the electronic versions. In other words, we haven't given the item up - we have only changed its form.

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