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My Thoughts on Patrick Rhone's Enough

For someone as focused as I am on technology, both at work and at home, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about “when is enough enough?”.

I’ve been reading Patrick Rhone’s pieces on MinimalMac for quite a while now and they have always resonated with me on one level or another. Patrick has some interesting things to say about how we handle ourselves in life but, obviously, his approach to technology has been somewhat of a focus for me.

In the rush to always find the next “most helpful app” or the next “device that fixes your life”, it’s easy to lose sight of the idea of what Kevin Kelly calls “appropriate use of technology”. As gadget geeks, we tend to flit from tool to tool, using something for a brief moment before the next one comes along, and so on. The same goes for apps or workflows or iPad cases. Novelty has come to drive many of us. Being the first to spot the app to solve a problem we never knew we had, or a piece of news that will send the “echosphere” scrambling for context and follow up is like a drug, if twitter is to be believed.

Enter Patrick Rhone’s book Enough, a collection of essays about how Patrick approaches a life with too much. It is a short book but dense in content and strikes at the heart of what has been bothering me lately on this subject of “appropriate use”.

We don’t need to have the latest thing. We don’t need all of it. We don’t have to always have the best. We just need to have “enough” and we need to realize that what is enough for me might not be enough for you. Rhone explores that gray area over the course of 90 pages in interesting ways.

A few years ago, a life change saw me getting rid of most of my “stuff”. I sold or gave away all of my audio equipment, instruments, 95% of my paper books, and traded in all but a few CDs. It was a purge of epic proportions and during that difficult time I saw the saying from Fight Club’s Tyler Durden (by way of Jim Uhls by way of Chuck Palahniuk) was true to a disturbing extent — the things that we own really do end up owning us. 

Now, I’m not saying that you need to get rid of all of your stuff. In fact, as time went on things I slowly started accumulating things again (books not available in ebook format, for example) but forcing a harsh evaluation was an eye-opening experience for me.

Some people like paper books and feel the world is a richer place for their existence, whereas I’m fine with a Kindle app or iBooks and having no book-shaped objects sitting around, collecting dust. At that point, the iPad transcends a mere gadget but becomes something that fundamentally changes the way I approach things. It’s not an extravagant gadget. It is something I use everyday to do something essential and real. That is appropriate use.

Sean Bonner wrote about these topics a while back in his “Year of Less” series of posts right when I was in the heart of my Great Purge and the timing seemed eerily appropriate[1]. They helped a lot when I was trying to form my own ideas about what was really important.

One particularly interesting piece in Enough was entitled “Use Technology To Enrich, Not Distract” and it strikes at the heart of the topic. After getting a sense of similar strains of thought in Kevin Kelly’s book “What Technology Wants” , hearing Rhone’s take was welcome and interesting.

Another chapter in the book is called “You Will Never Catch Up”. In many ways here, Rhone hits the nail on the head. Email will always roll in, your Twitter stream will keep streaming, your RSS articles will keep piling up. It will go on, day after day, and we’re faced with the daunting task of finding ways to manage the chaos. Part of what I enjoy is finding those ways, indeed, but there are still times when you throw up your hands and reset. Ironically, after those resets, it’s rare to find out that you’ve missed anything crucial.

It underlines the point that a lot of what we see as real work is often just busywork. We are just fighting to push back the growing tide of neverending drudgery of digital management. I don’t know about you, but putting technology to work for me instead of making me feel farther behind is something that I think is worth spending time on, as long as it’s done within reason.

Patrick Rhone has a included a lot of good stuff in this book. Its length insures you’ll get through in a few sittings. While some of the writing is introspective and almost like a minimalist poetry, there is some surprisingly workmanlike prose as well. These parts focus on outlining “things to do” and which lists to make, intended to jar your mind into getting some of the book’s more well-meaning points.

Scattered throughout the book are quotes that keep you thinking about it long after the last page is turned.

It is well put together book which reached me at just the right time. I recommend it for those of you who are looking for a quick read and who have been thinking about where our time, attention, money and space go.

  1. Also read Sean’s excellent BoingBoing piece “Technomads” ↩