Wendell Berry, “Why I’m Not Going to Buy a Computer” 1987 Harpers



2.      Doesn’t admire being hooked to energy corporations

         a.      Acknowledges that everybody is

         b.      He hopes to become less hooked

         c.      Is hooked a good word?

                   i.       Addicted to more and more use of energy

                   ii.      Always on; Unable to turn off

                            (1)    Phantom power--5% of total energy (see Energy Myths)

                   iii.     Could we function in modern society without being hooked to energy corporations? Could you do it?

3.      In his work, he tries to be as little hooked to them as possible

         a.      Farms with horses

         b.      Writes with pencil, pen, and paper

         c.      Hates to think his work as a writer could not be done without direct dependence on strip-mined coal

                   i.       Note this allows indirect dependence

4.      Worries about coal use

         a.      Most electricity today comes from burning coal–44% last year, now 36%)

         b.      Mountain top removal

         c.      Dangerous:

                   i.       West Virginia mine disaster April 2010 (kills 30)

                   ii.      33 Chilean coal miners trapped for over 2 months

         d.      Coal is the dirtiest way to generate power

5.      Berry wants to be consistent: How could he write against rape of nature if in act of writing he is implicated?

         a.      It matters to him that he writes in day w/o electric light

         b.      Worries

                   i.       Does it make a difference that he is implicated in other ways than through his writing? For example that he uses electricity in his house? That his writing is published in ways that clearly use electricity/power/coal

                   ii.      Does it matter that in the act of protest itself he not use the means of what he is protesting against, even if he uses those means in other areas of his life?

                   iii.     Consider a rally for bikes and against cars by people driving cars? (Still they do drive cars in other areas of life)

         c.      Work is sacred for Berry, so it might be especially important for him to be as pure in work as possible

6.      Doesn’t admire computer makers much more than energy industry

         a.      Seduce struggling family farmers to believe problems solved by buying another expensive piece of equipment

         b.      Propaganda campaigns got computers into schools that need books

                   i.       Energy Secretary wants e textbooks

7.      Computers not bringing us any closer to what matters to Berry

8.      Berry’s values: Peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, and good work

         a.      Computers might enhance good work

                   i.       By ending drudgery of retyping

         b.      Improve ecological health by reducing paper use?

                   i.       In U.S. 13% of electric power used to make/run computers and operate internet; this use growing rapidly.

         c.      Increase political honesty and make democracy work better by group email lists

                   i.       Cameras in China

         d.      Enhance peace

                   i.       Isreal/Iran: A Love Story

9.      Do computers improve writing?

         a.      Quicker (is not better!)? More revisions possible                 

         b.      Berry’s argument that no: When someone using a computers writes better than Dante and it is shown that this is due to his use of computers then he will speak with more respect about computers

10.    Berry objects to getting the latest when what you have now works fine and nothing wrong with it

         a.      Examples of people getting rid of perfectly good things to have newest/latest?

                   i.       Cars, clothes, cell phones

                   ii.      Computers! Why obsolete so fast?

                            (1)    Distinguish between new abilities old ones can’t do and just changing things so old one is perceived to be no good anymore

         b.      Planned obsolescence

         c.      Fixated on “the new” and dislike of “old things”

11.    Relation to his wife

         a.      Wife types his hand written draft on 1956 typewriter, in as good condition as when got it

         b.      She’s his best critic and edits and revises as she types

         c.      A great literary cottage industry doesn’t want to get rid of

         d.      To get a computer would mean ending this treasured working relationship with his wife

         e.      Tech innovation always requires discarding old model

         f.       Present day tech typically involves superceding not just something but someone

                   i.       Tech caused unemployment

         g.      What about his wife using a computer?

                   i.       More efficient for retyping and correcting

                   ii.      Computer is not a idea machine; she can still do all valuable intellectual work

                   iii.     She would be doing less drudgery work (retyping), but still be able to do editing–the meaningful work

                            (1)    But perhaps typing is not “drugery” but delightful manual labor



         a.      Cheaper: New tool should be cheaper than one it replaces

         b.      Smaller: As small as one it replaces

         c.      Better: Do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than one it replaces

         d.      More energy efficient: It should use less energy than the one it replaces

         e.      Solar: Should use some form of solar energy, such as that of body

                   i.       How is the body solar energy? Why solar energy better?

         f.       Simply repairable: Repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided has right tools (Keep things relatively simple)

         g.      Local: Purchasable and repairable as near as home as possible (Community self sufficiency, opposition to national/international chain stores)

         h.      Small business: Come from privately owned shop that take it back for maintenance and repairs (opposes throw-away mentality)

         i.       Not harmful: It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, including family and community relations

                   i.       Worries

                            (1)    Extremely stringent requirement. Important techs will bring changes that disrupt–Winner’s point about technology as a form of life

                            (2)    Berry opposed to adopting new tech whose benefits outweigh their costs, because there are costs?



14.    Berry is a sexist, male chauvinist, who exploits his wife

         a.      Wife as a handy alternative to enslavement by computer

         b.      Low-tech, energy saving device, drop off pile of written notes on wife and get back finished manuscript–computer can’t do that

         c.      Wife is cheap, reparable, good for family structure

         d.      Berry is supporting subservience of one class to another

         e.      So Berry opposes vacuum cleaners and washing machines because wife can beat rugs and hand wash clothes?

         f.       Berry reply

                   i.       Insulting to his wife, as if stupid drone

                   ii.      Maybe she wants and likes this work and some meaning out of it and not working for nothing

15.    Berry’s principle impossible to universalize

         a.      Should Sierra club not use printing machines but hand copy all their material? (Because they fight against wasteful practices of energy industries)

16.    Berry is inconsistent and shouldn’t sleep well at night because magazines he publishes in support (via advertisements) nature/community destroying businesses

         a.      Natural Rural Electric Association, Marlboro, McDonald Douglas

17.    *Berry response: This critic thinks I should be a fanatic

         a.      I’m not

         b.      I am a person of this century and an implicated in many practices I regret

         c.      Didn’t say and doesn’t know how to end right away all involvement in harmful tech

         d.      Wants to limit that involvement and knows how to do that to an extent         

         e.      If tech does damage to world it is reasonable/moral to try to limit one’s use of the tech

         f.       That he’s implicated partially, doesn’t mean he is inconsistent to try to lessen that implication and to argue against being more implicated

         g.      Fanticism not required to critique a way of life one is part of

18.    Berry’s got wrong target: Electricity not the problem, but how energy companies produce it

         a.      More sensible to correct precise error rather than simply ignore their product

         b.      Should protest against strip mining, but can keep using computer with clear conscience

19.    Berry’s critique of consumption/consumerism

         a.      What is wrong with conservation movement is has clear conscience

                   i.       Guilty are always someplace else

         b.      Falsely believe that only production causes damage and ignores that consumption supports that production

                   i.       People want to limit production w/o limiting consumption and conscience of consumer

         c.      Virtually all consumption today is extravagant (in developed world) and consumes the world

         d.      **One can’t understand history of Appalachian coal field exploitation (or rest of story about energy exploitation) and plug in an appliance with a clear conscience

         e.      To extent we consume in our present circumstances we are guilty

         f.       To extent we are guilt consumers and conservationists, we are absurd

         g.      Writing letters to protect env. and giving to env. org is important

                   i.       But government and conservation organizations alone won’t make us a conserving society

         h.      We can do something directly to solve our share of the problems

                   i.       Not buy the products

         i.       Our first duty to reduce so far as we can our own consumption

Question of Berry’s “Why I’m Not Going To Buy A Computer”


1.      What are some of the reasons Berry gives for why he is not going to buy a computer?

2.      Describe four (distinct) standards that Wendell Berry (in “Why I’m not going to buy a computer?”) has for accepting new technological innovation in his own work.

3.      Does Berry think we should end all involvement in harmful technology right away?

4.      Does Berry think that it is the producers of harmful goods that are responsible for their harm and that the consumers bear only secondary responsibility?

5.      Describe Berry’s views about consumption and consumerism.