mnmlist: unautomate: do it by hand

I’m a big fan of automation: getting technology to do things for you. It’s the way of the future, after all, isn’t it?

Why copy an article by hand several times when you can copy and paste on the computer and have it send out a thousand copies? Why go to the bank to make a bill payment when you can have your online bank account automatically send out the payment? Why wash and dry clothes by hand when machines can do it?

And while I am not going to advocate throwing out all technology and automation, I will make a case for “un-automation” in some cases.

Making things harder isn’t a bad thing.

When we must do things ourselves, and it costs us in time and effort, it forces us to consider whether it’s worth doing at all.

When you have to walk to a store (or drive) and buy something with cash, it’s less convenient than ordering it online and having it delivered to your door. But that inconvenience is a cost, and this higher cost will give us pause.

And that pause is everything. There is infinity in a pause. Within that pause is thought, is a decision that we must make, a decision we have usually automated because the action is so easy and fast that we don’t need to think about it.

It’s easy to buy things — easier than ever before. It’s easy to consume information, so much information that we forget about creating and building. It’s easy to communicate, so much so that we communicate in more ways and more often than we used to. It’s easy to acquire and create chatter … but should it be?

This is what we need to take pause to consider. Things are easy, but is that the way we want them? Easy is nice, but it leads to consequences that we might not want. It leads to excess, to debt, to information overload, to getting fat, to having too much, to never having enough time for what’s truly important.

Minimalism, as I’ve said before, is the answer. Reduce, do and have less.

Un-automation is a path to minimalism.

Here are just a few examples to get us thinking:

* Cook your food, instead of buying fast food or microwaveable or other pre-prepared food. You’ll eat less and it’ll be healthier. I’d suggest we grow our own food (or kill it if you’re a meat eater), but we may not be ready for that kind of advanced technology yet.
* Hand code websites and blog posts. It’s very easy to use software, such as Dreamweaver, to code a site. Or Textmate or BBEdit to code a page or write software. Or blog software such as WordPress or Tumblr or the like to create and write a blog. But what if you had to code everything by hand, in a text editor such as Textedit or Notepad? You’d be forced to build less, to write less, to consider every word and every page and every site, and decide whether it’s worth doing. Same thing with software code: you’d write less, and make every line count.
* Walk to buy, or drive if that’s not possible. If you have stores within walking distance (or biking distance), force yourself to use your legs and use cash instead of a credit card or check, in order to buy something. You’ll give it a second and third thought, because is the item worth the effort?
* Write letters instead of emails, by hand. OK, I know most of us won’t do this, but think of the consequence: we’d write less, and have less chatter. We’d make every letter and every word count.
* Talk in person when possible. Like, sit down and have a conversation. It’s more real than leaving comments or sending emails or doing IM or talking on Twitter or even on the phone. Sure, it’s not always possible, because of geography or time constraints. But when it is possible, try it.
* Try making your own clothes — you’ll own fewer. OK, just kidding. I know there’s only so far most of us will go. But how cool would it be to say you made all your clothes? (I’d be even more “fashion-challenged” than I am now.)

Just some food for thought. I think we could go too far with un-automation, but we might have already gone too far with automation and convenience. It’s cause for a pause, at least.