Dinner with a Book: Why I am not Going to Buy a Computer

Why I am not Going to Buy a Computer

Friday nights are not what they used to be. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Cross your heart and tell me honestly –  are you sure you want your pre-lockdown Friday nights back? 

I guess that depends on how you spent them. All night bar-hopping can be fun, yes, but how much do you miss waking up to that slap of remorse on Saturday morning?

Going to movies is certainly missed – but thanks to Netflix at least there are options. What I am longing for most, though, what I’ve truly got an appetite for, is dinner somewhere nice. Flickering candles, starched napkins, the background buzz of fellow diners. I miss the leisurely perusing of a menu, now replaced with the wearied scanning of instructions on yet another supermarket deal.

Guess what – those dinner places miss us too; and more than that – they need our support as they struggle to stay afloat. The once guilty ritual of a takeaway has become a good deed! Tap in to those karma points and order something local. 

What ‘Dinner with a Book’ will do is provide you with a delicious theme and good company. ‘Company’? I hear you ask. 

But no, we won’t accompany you ourselves, and we won’t suggest you break the rules with illicit meet-ups. For what is better company than a good book? 

Let’s start this Lunar year with a new routine: stop by your library, get the book, then pick up that takeaway. Come home, set up the solo dinnertable of your dreams, and live your Fridays anew.


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Wendell Berry  –  Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer

This little book contains two essays by Wendell Berry: ‘Why I am Not Going to Buy a Computer’ and ‘Feminism, the Body and the Machine’. The first one was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1987, and received many letters in response, some of which (all critical) are included in the book.

Back in the 1980s Wendell Berry argued that he does not need a computer to write, despite everyone around him saying so. He did not think using an electronic machine would improve his writing: ‘when somebody has used a computer to write work that is demonstrably better than Dante’s, and when this better is demonstrably attributable to the use of a computer, then I will speak of computers with a more respectful tone of voice’. He did not believe it would save money. The manufacturing processes employed in the making of this machine stood against his beliefs, and – thankfully – he had his dutiful wife to retype all handwritten work on a Royal standard typewriter, and effectively edit it along the way.

The essay and especially the ‘wife’ part of it caused a backlash that resulted in about twenty letters from Harper’s readers received by Berry, the vast majority of them unfavourable. He was accused of availing himself of his wife’s time and patience, portraying his reluctance to use technology as a moral virtue and blamed for placing his writing in a magazine that carries ads for unethical corporations (Marlboro, Phillips Petroleum, McDonnell Douglas – now Boeing, etc.)

He was given space to respond to the letters, which he did in brief in Harper’s and then to a greater extent in the second essay on ‘Feminism, the Body and the Machine’.

His personal stance is that by not using a computer, his ‘insignificant’ resistance to technological progress (which arguably has not led to a happier human existence) can make a difference if other people would do the same. The fact that his wife has to do the extra work is explained by her own willingness and preference to be subservient and obedient at home as an expression of love rather than being liberated by becoming a corporate underling. The fact that Wendell Berry believes that most Western men, especially corporate underlings, are now more compliant than housewives have ever been and ‘their characters combine feudal submissiveness with modern helplessness’ shows that he is partially blind to the reasons why women might seek work outside of the household and the degrees of subservience that may be required of them within. 

He then takes it away from the question of gender and talks about how we are all exploited by economy, technological progress and the culture of consumerism. Prophetically, in 1990 he identifies that the real aim of technological progress is ‘money and ease’, but it is ‘disguised and justified by an obscure, cultural faith’ in a better future for our children. He wonders then ‘how we can hope to make a good future by doing badly in the present’ and reading these words today tinges their logic with a sense of remorse.

‘A good future is implicit in the soils, forests, grasslands, marshes, deserts, mountains, rivers, lakes, and oceans that we have now, and in the good things of human culture that we have now; the only valid ‘futurology’ available to us is to take care of those things.’ 

While that view does not account for the fact that our society is imperfect and there are many social issues that require a change in the status quo, it is well founded when we apply it to ecology.

Speaking of future: today Wendell Berry is eighty-six, and the absence of a computer (or a cell phone, or even an answering machine – I guess his wife delivers the messages) has not stopped him from penning more than eighty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, all the while living on a farm, sustainably, happily. It does not matter who you side with when you read his arguments, it’s more important that there should always be people like him, not afraid of swimming against the current. 

I ordered a Goodness Bowl from The Farmer’s Mistress, and thought that went perfectly with the book. 


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‘Dinner with a Book’ is a new Londnr feature created & written by book blogger, Yelena from Foliovore.

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