I have been thinking about this question lately.  My goal with the reduction project was to increase my personal freedom.  I started this because of a feeling of being trapped by all the stuff weighing me down.  The idea was that by getting rid of most of my stuff I would no longer have this anchor that prevented me from doing whatever I want.  Now that I’m getting closer to this goal I am sensing a conflict between minimalism and what I thought it would bring to me.

The thing about minimalism is that it adds limitations to your life.  Limitations that force you to make choices that otherwise would not be necessary.  These choices lead to owning things that are truly valuable to you, and doing things that have real meaning.  Without minimalism one is more likely to make a decision based on convenience.

For example, the MacBook Air is a minimalist computer with only one USB port.  With one port you cannot connect a mouse, keyboard, flash drive, external hard drive, external DVD drive, and iPod all at the same time.  Only the one device that is most important in the moment can be plugged in.

Another example – let’s say you have not worn formal clothing for years so you got rid of the suits/gowns in your wardrobe.  Then you are invited to an event with a strictly fancy dress code.  Keeping the extra clothes that are hardly ever worn would make it convenient to dress up for the event.  Having a giant wardrobe with outfits for any occasion gives one the freedom to meet any dress code at a moment’s notice.  A minimalist is less free in this situation because they must make a choice, to rent/buy new clothing or simply not go to the event.

The choices forced on a minimalist cause them to reexamine many things that otherwise may be taken for granted.   This is what fascinates me, looking at stuff and actions in a new light.  But I wonder if freedom is what I was really looking for?

Television

May 6, 2010

There aren’t many TV shows that I watch, but there are still a few that I follow.  Part of my reduction project has been to try living without television.  It’s difficult because I grew up watching hours of TV every day.  To be knowledgable about entertainment was part of my “identity”.

To this day my mother still keeps her TV on 24 hours a day.  She says that the background noise helps keep her company when she’s alone.  Personally I don’t get it.  I can’t tolerate the cacophony of the noise and flashing light, the cheering/screaming crowd sounds, the rapid-fire staccato of the sales pitches.  Right now I only watch TV to see a story that I’m interested in, and I try to skip over the commericals.

When my storage unit was packed full of junk from my former life in an apartment, I had a small TV with a 10″ screen stored in a box.  It was an old one bought in 1985, so it was analog and not cable-ready.  Before that my TV set had a 13″ screen.  I always wanted the smallest TV screen that I could get because I didn’t like the influence that TV had on me and wanted to minimize it.  Those TV’s are long gone now.  When I moved into this shared house, I’d try to coordinate schedules so I could watch my shows on someone else’s TV when they were watching the same show.

That was okay for a while, but I wanted to get my own TV to increase my own personal freedom to see what I want when I want.  Now I live in a rented bedroom, so space is very limited.  The TV set would have to fit on my desk next to my stereo and computer.  I looked for a tiny TV that could be put on the corner of the desk and connect to the cable.  There were some “DVD player” gadgets with small screens, but I could play DVDs on my computer so I didn’t need that function in my TV.

What I purchased instead was a TV tuner gadget from Elgato, which worked with EyeTV software on my MacBook.  The TV cable plugged into the back of the tuner, and then connected to the MacBook with a USB wire.  With this setup I could watch cable TV channels on my computer, either in a window or full-screen.  It could also record and play back shows.  This tuner box combined with my computer removed the need to have a television or VCR on my desk – that was a huge space-saver!

Last year I upgraded my main computer from the MacBook to a PC laptop running Linux.  To make a long story short, I could not get the tuner to work with the new computer.  It still actually may be possible, but after working on it for more than six months with little success, I decided instead to change my approach.

The plan up to that point was to watch cable TV shows on my new computer like I used to on the Mac.  Instead, I could use this problem as an opportunity to reduce my TV viewing, which really was my long term goal.  I made a list of the shows I currently watch, and discovered that all but one were available online.  Either through Hulu or by streaming them on the network’s own website.  The one other show can be downloaded from a torrent site.  So I can still watch shows on my computer without a TV or VCR, and now also without the Elgato tuner.  Having no cable TV means I spend less time idly flipping through channels looking for something to watch.  This has been my entertainment system for about four months and is working well.

Too many computers

February 11, 2010

Have this nagging feeling that I own too much computer stuff.  I have three laptop computers, and each one can be used for tasks that the others can’t do.  I can’t simplify the computer gear by selling a laptop, because that would sacrifice some functionality.  The question then becomes, instead of simplifying by reducing the hardware maybe I should first simplify by reducing the options that I need.  Do I have too much functionality available?  Are all these tech options necessary for a fulfilled life?

It seems that I am already at the minimum number of machines, and to reduce further would require giving up functionality.  What if this is a hoarding behavior? I’m not comfortable with having this many computers, but at the same time I did not consider giving up the ability to do some things.  It was the hoarding of features.

Strangely it did not occur to my stuff-centered mind that I might be able to grow by reducing the number of computer tasks my home computer is capable of doing.  I could see the hardware side, but just now understood the software side.  The packrat mind thinks only about what is in front if it (physical objects).  There is this idea that if the MacBook is sold, it means I’ll never again have a Mac, so this all will be lost.  That’s not really true because I will be keeping the data.  And I can always get a newer Mac later, the next time I upgrade.

After going through the One Computer Initiative I settled on a MacBook as my main computer.  That was three years ago.  This springtime I was thinking that 1) it’s time for an upgrade, and 2) for a challenge I wanted to try something a little different this time.  A couple weeks ago I bought a new laptop that came with Linux pre-installed on it, instead of getting another Mac.

I had been using a video capture box connected to the MacBook as a PVR to watch television. I like this system because it folds the functionality of a TV into my computer – therefore I need one less electronic device sitting on my desk.  Less stuff = better! The plan was to get my old video capture box working with the new computer.  My research before buying indicated that it would work.  I’ve been having trouble because the linux driver for it is not supported anymore.  I found a patched version of the driver on a blogger’s website.  It is installed and I’ve been trying out different settings, but still isn’t working with the MythTV software I plan to use.

At this point I am facing the decision of whether to continue tinkering with it or to buy a new supported PVR encoder box that is sure to work.  That means I’d have two “main” computers, each with their own video capture boxes.  Starting to get uncomfortably complicated!

Once I get everything working on the new computer I can theoretically get rid of the old Mac.  I get attached to computers because of the “history” I have with them.  There are 3 computers here now, and it’ll probably stay that way for a while.