Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Simplicity versus Technology

Last week was a disaster of technology, involving all machines more complicated than a toaster.  One day the computer in the Children’s Department refused to renew books; the next day it refused to print receipts; and, the third day it started asking for a password for basic functions.  The newly installed server found even more creative and disruptive ways to misbehave. We were feeling technologically unlucky or, to be more accurate, cursed.

While waiting for the next electronic mishap, I started humming the old Shaker hymn 'Simple Gifts'
‘Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free.
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
(1948 Joseph Brackett)

Simple in the song describes an absolute dedication to Shaker beliefs and does not imply simplistic, but the song itself is calming.  The Shakers embraced progress and modern technology and their communities were examples of incredible efficiency.  Visiting the Shaker villages in SabbathdayLake, Maine and Canterbury, New Hampshire is well worth the effort.

A Simple Murder(2012) by Eleanor Kuhns takes place in such a setting. William Rees, an itinerant weaver, returns home after the Revolutionary War to learn that his son has run away from the family farm and is living in a Shaker community.  Rees also moves to the community in an attempt to reconnect with his son and, using skills developed during the war, to solve a murder.  Kuhns’ description of the structure and rhythm of daily life in a religious community is fascinating, but does not overwhelm her development of the villagers themselves. William Rees also appears in Death of a Dyer (2013).  Finally settled back on his farm in Maine, Rees investigates the murder of a childhood friend.  At the same time, he is still negotiating his relationship with son and exploring his feelings for a woman who left the Shaker community to live as his housekeeper.  

Technology can simplify life - but when technology goes bad, simplicity is replaced by a state of frustration and complexity that tries people's patience. Start humming...

-S. Bakos
Library seen from the path in the woods

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