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Is Living Simply Primitive? Regressive? Anti-technology?

Voluntary simplicity, furthermore, does not mean indiscriminately renouncing all the advantages of science and technology. It does not mean living in a cave, giving up all the benefits of electricity, or rejecting modern medicine. But it does question the assumption that science and technology are always the most reliable paths to health, happiness, and sustainability. It is certainly better to accept rather than reject the advantages, though so dearly bought, which the invention and industry of humankind offer – provided, of course, that they are genuine advantages. But often with such ‘modern improvements,’ as Thoreau warned, there is ‘an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance.’[1] Voluntary simplicity, then, involves taking a thoughtfully sceptical stance in relation to technology and science, rejecting those aspects which, all things considered, seem to cost more than they come to. Clearly, this is far from being primitive or regressive. Just perhaps our modern technocratic societies will one day come to see that there is a sophistication and elegance to the clothesline, the bicycle, and the water tank that the dryer, the automobile, and the desalination plant, decidedly lack. On a similar note, perhaps it will one day be widely accepted that there is a certain primitiveness to technological gimmicks or that a blind faith in science can itself be ‘anti-progress.’ In the words of the great Leonardo da Vinci: ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’[2]

For more on technology and the simple life, click here.

For Henry Thoreau’s views on technology, click here.


[1] Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walden‘ in Carl Bode (ed), The Portable Thoreau (1982) 306.

[2] See Steve Deger and Leslie Gibson (eds), The Book of Positive Quotations (2nd ed, 2007) 262.

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