On Not Computing: Five Entry Points

Not Computing Image

Five Ways to Not Compute

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to read any Wendell Berry, I highly suggest that you do so. His agrarian, contrarian ways are often the antidote for what ails us as overly-consumerized human beings caught in the cattle chute of modern productivity. In particular, I’m thinking about his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” which contains the following stanza:

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

You can read the entire poem here.

I think the idea of “not computing” is a well-needed concept in our world where everything “must” fit in the logic of the prevailing ideologies. And yet, we who are professing to be followers of the Way of Christ are reminded by his journey that we are to be constantly wary of “prevailing” ideologies.

And so, as all things are difficult in the beginning, I’ve decided to offer an entry point to helping us all learn how to practice non-computing. Here are the top five ways to begin learning to not compute:

Not Computing Number 1 (and a small bit of irony):

Stop reading only lists – commit to reading at least three non-list items a day. Buzzfeed and the like are great for quick reads in your home “library”, but we need to rememrberwere not meant to be computers. We are creatures of nuance and emotion, whose complex realities demand the shading that actual prose can provide. And so, while I’ll give this one a list because I said I would, I’ll take the time to explain the items in the list.

Not Computing Number 2:

Go into the bank. When we first moved to Alabama last October, I found myself join going into the bank to make sure that any financial transitions were handled appropriately and in a timely manner. After a few weeks, though I decided to use the night deposit to deposit an early morning check. When I went through, however, there were no deposit slips. I had to come back later in the day after they were open. It took extra effort to drive and to get out and go in, but it began a habit. Now, I know my tellers and the manager at the bank. I know more about them than I do any bankers I’ve ever used because I take the time to have conversation with them even when it might not be convenient to my day. The relationships I’m building there may not change the world, but they are providing one more avenue through which my eyes are opened to the world and change can be brought into my life.

Not Computing Number 3:

Avoid impulse buys. I didn’t have a term for the items that exist at the front of stores until I worked retail for a time in college. These “impulse buy” items are the ones at the front of the store. They feed to our most fallen consuming habits. And they’ve gotten more and more expensive. Did you know you can buy video game controllers from the impulse buy section of the Neighborhood Walmart. That is a grocery store, not a GameStop.

Here’s how they work. They pray on our fear of missing out. “Oh, what’s this?” we think. “A limited edition My Pretty Little Kitty of Thunderdome keychain? If I don’t buy it now, I might never have the chance to buy it again.”

Now I’m not telling you that you don’t need a My Pretty Little Kitty of Thunderdome keychain. You might. But I doubt it. So here’s what to do instead of picking it up at the register – get out of line and go back to the area where the item is typically sold in the store. If you aren’t wiling to take the effort to get out of line to go get it, you don’t need it.

Then, if you want to take it one step further, take that money that you were about to spend on that thing you don’t need and give it away to charity. That really does not compute.

Not Computing Number 4:

Be nice when unnecessary. It is not enough to follow the rules. We follow one who has asked us to go the extra mile in service to neighbor and world. The town home complex where we are currently living has a few areas that are designated for “curbing” one’s dog. In these particular areas, it is not expected that one pick up after the dogs. They are known to be areas where yard bombs are frequent.

But even when I’m feeling utterly lazy, I take the time to pick up after my dogs. I do it because my dogs are big and therefore leave larger areas of danger for the next dog-walker to encounter. I think of it as an unnecessary niceness.

This is not to brag. There are plenty of areas of my life where I am anything but nice, but I’m beginning to notice those areas in part because I’m doing unnecessary niceness in this one aspect of my life. This kindness might even cause me to take better care with shopping carts or to leave close parking spaces open for whoever else might take them.

Not Computing Number 5:

Unplug. This is a tough one, but I think we could all (myself included) benefit from some space away from our screens. Our places where we are naturally forced to unplug are decreasing. Cell service is moving towards ubiquity. This might explain why there are [new technologies and public debates emerging] (http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/01/06/morozov-technology-critique) that help to reclaim unconnected spaces.

While the convenience of being able to connect anywhere at anytime is amazing, we have to remember that we were made to be able to converse with the voices inside our own heads. Not everything needs to winnow down to a Facebook post, and by staying over connected and over concerned with the feedback from others we may be losing the ability to keep our own counsel. Being able to be self aware is part of what makes us bearers of the divine image, and we should intentionally set aside space to ponder that mystery.

Of course, if we were able, we could follow Wendell Berry all the way to becoming brilliant people who live off the land. And maybe we will. But for anyone who, like me, thinks that living off the land in perfect ecological harmony is too high a mountain to climb, maybe we can start in these small ways.

If you have other ways that you think would help us all learn how to not compute a little better, I hope you’ll leave a comment. I think that together, we can figure out how to live out non-computing every day in small ways that can make a big difference.

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