Design for Life: Real Time

Experiencing the world through television and the Internet is like trying to play piano in mittens. Take off the gloves and get to know your world.

hands playing a piano

Experiencing the world through television and the Internet is like trying to play piano in mittens.

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Would you rather eat a fresh, juicy peach or canned peaches? Share dinner with close friends, or send them an e-mail? Kiss someone, or watch people kissing on TV? The answers seem obvious—we usually prefer rich sensory pleasures to indirect experiences. Yet in the name of expedience, our lives are becoming increasingly indirect. We listen to digital music, eat meals of unknown origin, buy products online that were made halfway around the world, and interact via e-mail, texts and social networking websites. How much of your time is spent in direct living—having experiences that aren’t abstracted or distanced by technology?

My life has a fair amount of indirectness. I interact by e-mail and on Facebook and spend most of my day indoors, usually at the computer. I often use credit cards and sometimes shop online. I drive for errands and activities outside my neighborhood. I sometimes patronize national chain stores.

In other areas, my life is increasingly direct. I spend time in the garden, get together with friends, shop at the farmer’s market and usually cook at home. I patronize local businesses and craftspeople when I can. I don’t own a TV, and I don’t play computer games or send text messages often.

I want even more direct living. My body needs to move more; I want to see and touch my friends more; I want to grow more food and use less fossil fuel; and I want to support my local economy and know the origins of things I buy.

Indirection's Costs 

Beth Meredith and Eric Storm meet a lot of less-than-satisfied people through their consulting business, Create the Good Life. “Most people who come to us are looking for better connections and more creativity in their lives,” Meredith says. “These are itches our indirect culture doesn’t scratch.”

Shopping is a good example. Not long ago, we walked to the store, chatted with the owner and bought locally made items. Now, Meredith says, “You type in a credit card number online, and something appears on your doorstep. You didn’t interact with people, a place, products or money. It’s easy to lose all sense of the flow of resources through your life—or of healthy limits.”

Kindergarten teacher Shannon Patricks notes that, until about five years ago, her students played card or board games at home with their families. Now they rarely engage in real-world family recreation, but they’re adept at computer games and Wii. She assigns low-tech family games as homework, in hopes of restoring physical competence and personal interactions. She says many parents thank her for bringing their families closer.

Meredith likens virtual relationships to fast food: “We get more faster. But we aren’t satisfied, so we tend to overindulge.”

How Good It Feels 

Attempting to work more directly, California architect Dave Deppen encourages in-person business meetings rather than online meetings or conference calls with his colleagues and clients. “It’s important to see people’s expressions,” he says, “and have the unplanned side conversations that enrich the situation.” E-mail is efficient for mass memos and quick notes, Deppen says, but “90 percent of the communication is lost.”

Deppen escapes by making soup from scratch. “It’s food, but it’s also socializing, art, entertainment, storytelling and spirituality,” he says. “Making soup is an adventure: There’s the look of the emerging soup, the smells, the sequence of ingredients going in, and ultimately the taste and the shared experience of eating it.”

“We’d probably all be a lot happier if we did more of those simple, basic things,” Storm says. “Whenever we can take the time to fully and directly experience something, we often feel more whole, connected and enriched.”

Live Directly, Step by Step 


• Direct: Grow and cook your own
• Fairly Direct: Buy at farmer’s market or CSA
• Not So Direct: Cook at home; local restaurant
• Fairly Indirect: National chain restaurant; ingredients from afar
• Indirect: Frozen meals; fast food


• Direct: Face-to-face
• Fairly Direct: Telephone; video chat
• Not So Direct: Letter writing
• Fairly Indirect: E-mail; Facebook
• Indirect: Texting


• Direct: Walk
• Fairly Direct: Bicycle
• Not So Direct: High-speed rail; bus
• Fairly Indirect: Air travel; car
• Indirect: Beam me up


• Direct: Play a physical game
• Fairly Direct: Attend a live game
• Not So Direct: Wii
• Fairly Indirect: Watch sports on TV
• Indirect: Read about sports


• Direct: Sing or play your own
• Fairly Direct: Live music, small venue
• Not So Direct: Live music, large venue
• Fairly Indirect: Live performance online or on TV
• Indirect: Recorded music