The search for simplicity is based on a misunderstanding. Who can imagine a time more simple than the paleolithic? Your daily choices abstracted to whichever stones were lying around the den, the breeze in your dreadlocks and whether you survived the night or not. I cannot imagine how happy global firemakers must have been about the invention of matches. How simple this tedious task suddenly became, and how nostalgic the judges felt when the last local extreme fire-lighting olympics had become obsolete. Truth is, simplicity isn’t a new desire. We’ve always been moving closer to an asymptote which defines simplicity. Hans Rosling argues that technology like the washing machine simplified ordinary people’s lives so they had more time for the very things which count as qualitive in our society.
The desire toward a retrograde society is also not so avante garde. It’s been a while that we have been so spoilt for choice as consumers, that we have been yearning to “simpler” times. It’s a classic case of green grass and fences. Perhaps our parents did better after all? Marketers argue that we are overwhelmed. My question is this: Is what we are doing really creating a simple lifestyle? We are purchasing artisan beer which, though made in small quantities, provides an even bigger range of choice, in a competitive market for more local and less carbon footprints and slower brewed. There’s nothing simple about how my grandmother lived. Her house was bigger, took longer to clean and when she wasn’t scrubbing something she was tediously “slow-cooking” three elaborate meals a day. Simplicity cannot be equated with contentedness.
I have wondered about my own sense of nostalgia. I have often been tempted to escape the pressures and constraints of my life to go and live in a cottage dangling over the tip of a mountain and live off the land. My small cupboards will be stocked with only the bare necessities. The contents of which I’m afraid won’t be so much a matter of choice given that I’ll have no money. I will probably need to drive three hours to drop off my crocheted goods at a small post-office (the excitement of the week)which sometimes runs out of stamps, resolve to only eat ice cream in winter and eventually give up after 3 months and have a high speed internet connection installed so I can Pinterest and download torrents and order books…because I enjoy the texture and smell of paper.
What is driving us towards this desire for “simplicity”? Is it the frustration of constantly being behind on my iTunes downloads or the fear of not keeping up with societies’ expectations to deliver well on the norms? Avoidance of what we perceive to be expected life goals. If this is how we measure simplicity, the elegant solution is to run off with a single set of underwear and live in a yellow tent in an uninhabited spot where we can create our own rules. Too bad we’ll still wake up disgruntled when the fish won’t bite or apples are out of season.