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Simplicity

My whole life is surrounded by technology that has been discovered or invented in the past 50 years. I am a product of Generation-X, the epitome of consumerism. I love and want more technology, I crave the latest gadget, I consume therefore I am.

But really, I am a poor example of a consumer, I spent two whole days in Vancouver and bought nothing but food. Technology is useful, but I take much more pleasure in building things by hand or digging in the garden than having the latest. We have internet at home and a couple of computers, but no cable and only a small tv that occasionally gets turned on for some kids videos. We drive modest cars, we infrequently purchase food or drinks from fast food outlets – overall we buck the trends ingrained by years of pressure from advertising, schooling, parents and society in general urging us to be all that we can be.

As I listened to some of the speakers at the Institution of Civil Engineers Convention last week in Vancouver, I was struck at how, even though they were talking “sustainability” in engineering practice, the basis for treating the topic almost always started with the assumption that in general, the typical high level of consumption seen these days is normal and will continue unabated.

Civil Engineers, along with many other professional classes are relied upon by society to respond to challenges with a risk based approach. Too many civil engineers believe that innovation is the only way forward, resulting often in added complexity and consumption of raw materials. Some of the speakers understood this and offered a challenge to design with less impact, and I’d even say, design with less – and to allow that design philosophy permeate through our whole professional lives.

Simplifying your life and simplifying designs is rewarding, the way out of many of our problems is not to rely on technology but to reverse the course we’ve chosen thus far, unwinding the consumption and complexity from our lives.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

8 thoughts on “Simplicity

  1. Hey Mike,

    I came up with a quote about simplicity just yesterday…now if only I can remember it…

    It was something like, The simple answer probably relies on untenable complex systems. So, if you look for the simple answer, you will probably make the wrong choice. But if you look for the simple system, you will probably make the right one.

  2. Hey Ruben,
    I try to write my infrequent moments of brilliance! Your idea strikes me as encompassing much of how we should respond to the issues that surround us, whether it is a limited oil supply or designing a building or subdivision.

  3. Hi Mike,

    Just recently started reading your posts and thoroughly enjoy them. It’s my weekly reminder to constantly think about the choices I make, the actions I take (and the inactions), even the words I speak as I go about my day.

    Yesterday I turned on the TV for some mindlessness and came across an Oprah episode titled “The Debt Diet”, where she has specially trained people come in and help needing folks trim down their debt. As they uncovered people’s spending habits, it came as an absolute shock to me the amount of STUFF that we as humans are able to consume, to assume we must have, to presume will fill our voids. A two person family with five cars, women who go shopping every, single day, people who eat out at least 2 meals a day… While it’s nothing new to me, having made the choice several years ago to continuously lower my own levels of consumption and to educated myself about sustainable practices and issues, the shock was more a result of realizing that, while many people have made these choices to live with less, much of can-american life is still sprinting full tilt down the path of “more is more”.

    It’s no wonder engineers are continuing to design along these paths, as much of society continues to say, “This is what we want.” So how do we make that shift? With massive weather changes, unfathomable oil spills, islands of garbage mid-ocean, unheard of cancer levels – we still haven’t hit our “tipping point” to start undoing the damage of the last 200 years of industrial revolution.

    Alright this was supposed to just be a friendly comment saying thank you for your posts and it’s getting a little pessimistic… Thank you for continuing to post – I look forward to the next!

  4. Well Melissa, I too was overwhelmed at the amount that people thought they must have to be happy. My yearly budget for everything including mortage does not add up to some of the sums they spend just “shopping”.

    I sometimes wonder how the average North American will cope when the crunch does come due to peak oil, overpopulation, land degradation, poisioned food etc. etc.

    I do have an advantage, as I remember rationing in England even after WWII ended;
    one fresh egg a week, otherwise dried eggs., an ounce of cheese, a couple of strips of bacon, a little meat, and bread was rationed up to 9 nine years after that war ended. So in my life I have always been fairly frugal. For some reason there was not much obesity , one seldom saw an overweight child.

    My first office job involved keeping tabs on how much a London double-decker cost to make. All figure work was done mentally. e.g. 1 1/2 hours @ 1/11 3/4 per hour plus 3d cost lof living allowing. Row of figures that had to be extended and balanced and the page had to come out correctly. By the time I had finished my work career, computers had taken over. But I was happier doing the job the first way and am now glad I am out of the work force. Work was a lot more fun in those days, far less stress. (As a matter of fact, a London double-decker basic labour cost was abour 5,000 pounds.)

  5. Hi Mike
    You look the driving force behind Transition Castlegare. Check out the ning website transitionnelson.ning.com I would suggest that we show things going on in Castlegare as well as Nelson and that we rebrand the Ning to TransitionKootenay.

    Your thoughts.
    Bill McNally

  6. I think simplicity is a role that many people are embracing even in this high technology faced paced world we live in today. Life is just easier sometimes when you simplify.

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