Okay, so Thoreau was a tree-hugging hippie, but he had some salient points. His views on taxation and civil disobedience are laudable, for example, and the older I get, the more I find myself agreeing with his ideas on simplification.
Five years ago, I would have been in line to get my paws on an iPhone. I used to be a gadget hound of the first order--when the original iMac came out, I did stand in line, money in hand, to purchase one of the first ones for sale at the CompUSA in Nashua. I used to be a proponent of what my friend Mark calls "the all-singing, all-dancing multimedia device", coveting and buying gizmos that shoehorned the maximum amount of capabilities into as small a package as possible. The first Windows CE handhelds? I had a bunch of them, despite the fact that the software sucked, and their batteries lasted a tenth of the runtime offered by Palm's devices. Hell, I would have bought an iPhone simply for the fact that it says "Apple" on it, and because it's shiny and glossy.
Fast forward to today, and I'm not very tempted to get a combined phone/music player/web-browsing-and-email device. (And no, it's not just because the piggy bank for toy money is chronically empty these days.) Sure, it looks gorgeous, and I have no doubt that it does all those things in a beautiful and simple fashion, but it doesn't fit my recent trend towards simplification.
My carry guns are one example of this trend. I didn't wake up one day and decide to pare my carry guns down to just S&W K-frames--it just sort of evolved that way. When I made the K-frame my regular carry piece, it was the simplicity of operation and complete reliability that was the initial factor, but after a while I found that I also really enjoyed not having to carry extra magazines. (Speed strips are far easier to carry around--just stuff a pair into your front pocket and be on your way.) Then I appreciated being able to keep all my brass, and after a while I realized that I shot the K-frame better than anything else. I actually ended up carrying the same gun all the time, instead of switching to the Carry Gun of the Month every few weeks, and as a result my skill and comfort level with the old S&W improved quite a bit.
So I ended up getting a duplicate for my carry gun, which is identical in every respect except the length of the cylinder chambers. (My Model 13 is a .357 Magnum, and my Model 10 is a .38 Special.) Both guns are set up identically, with the same grips, loaded with the same rounds (.38 Special +P LSWCHP), and they ride in the same holsters. You can't tell them apart without reading the roll marks on the barrels. Now I have a backup gun for the one I carry, and if the M13 ever breaks or gets taken after a self-defense shooting, all I have to do is get its twin and stick it into the empty holster. I don't have to worry about finding leather, keeping magazines loaded, futzing around with "feed-friendly" carry loads, or getting used to a different manual of arms. Simple is good: you can see the loaded status of both guns just by glancing at the cylinder, both operate in exactly the same fashion, and there's no extraneous fiddle-faddle. Even the sights are just grooves in the topstraps and no-snag low front sights on thick barrels. Recoil is next to nothing even with the +P carry loads, and both guns put those 158-grainers exactly where you point them.
Well, since the simplicity concept works well in that particular area (self-defense weaponry), I started thinking that it might work well in other areas as well. The idea is to pare down the required hardware for a task to the most simple form that still allows full functionality.
I use laptops for writing, and up until recently I usually bought the most powerful machine I could afford every few years. Then I realized that I really only use my portables for writing, and that I didn't need the extra capabilities afforded by a new laptop. I started to regress my writing machines to earlier technology, just to see how far I could downgrade before getting less productive, and to my surprise I found out that writing on an old machine actually enhances my productivity because it offers fewer distractions than state-of-the-art hardware. A ten-year-old Powerbook will still run Word as well as a brand new MacBook, and it won't beckon with World of Warcraft. Then I took that equation to its logical conclusion, and bought one of these, which only lets you do writing...700 hours of it on one battery charge. No email, no Internet, no games, nothing but empty storage space to fill with letters, words, and sentences.
That Thoreau fellow...he may have been a patchouli-scented tree hugger, but that "simplify" thing seems to work pretty well. We seem to be in the middle of the ADHD Age, and our tools and toys reflect that. Buck the trend and try to shed the fluff for a little while, and it might just amaze you how much you can get done when your technology serves you instead of distracting you. I'm a complete and utter capitalist, so I get a twitch whenever somebody starts ranting about "unchecked consumerism", but maybe we don't need the latest and greatest all the time, and the term "obsolete" is used far too liberally.