Lessism over minimalism

I got a link in an e-mail the other day to digitizd.com, specifically to a post that talked about minimalism and lessism. I don’t read pop tech blogs — actually, come to think of it I don’t read blogs at all — mostly because they’re just big advertisements, and because the people who write them are somehow annoying to me. Actually, most bloggers are annoying to me, myself included.

It was odd, however, to hear someone preach about tech minimalism, and at the same time coach me on how to buy a cell phone, or explain why I should buy an iPad, or endorse a blogging service as a way to become an Internet hero. 😯 Maybe that alone explains my point about pop tech blogs being big advertisements. πŸ™„

Looking over the essay about minimalism though, what shocked me most was how different my own perspective on technology is from (what I guess is) the mainstream. I chide myself for dropping US$20 on a piece-of-junk 10-year-old Celeron laptop just so I can seed ISOs 24/7, and Mr. Pierce is explaining the 21 items in his dock (is that a Mac thing?) of which only nine are open. Maybe that’s minimalism to the average technophile, circa 2010. Maybe not.

Maybe I unwittingly fall into that “lessism” bracket that Mr. Pierce seems to dislike, where things are pared down so sharply that function becomes questionable. Or it may be that shift in perspective that I mentioned myself, a few months ago, where I’m pointing to the usefulness of contemporary software on technology that is a full decade behind the wave. Heck I even caught myself making a pitch for using floppies the other day. πŸ™„

To be honest, if either is true, I really don’t care. I am not on a crusade to convert anyone into using a computer in any way or fashion outside of whatever they like best. If 21 dock things and nine open at a time is “minimal” to you, then I am with you, brothers and sisters. Your campaign against the proliferation of unnecessary junk in western lifestyles is one step closer to realization. And you got there bravely clutching your $500 iPad.

Nope. I have no goal here. I have no motive, no hidden agendas, no desire to recruit, amass, educate or proselytize. Ninety-nine percent of the time I make notes here because I need to be able to find them for myself later. The other one percent of the time, I want to mark an event or a link that I might want to look at later. If you find this stuff useful as well … well, that’s great. I am cheered that you enjoyed it.

On the other hand, if you’re reading this site from your iPhone, listening to the latest DRM-laden music from your favorite big-name pop music band on your iPod, lugging around your iPad, wondering in the back of your mind how you’re going to make your paycheck stretch to cover the installment on your six-month-old octuple-core gaming laptop, and still have enough money for instant noodles and the monthly subscription to your favorite, newest, coolest on-line game. …

Well, you can still be a minimalist, if it sounds good to you. Personally, I would suggest dumping all that iP* on eBay, and letting someone else lug it around for a while. Find yourself a nice, clean middle-market cellphone, a music player that will play ogg tunes and is no bigger than a pack of gum, a secondhand Pentium 4 laptop and an Ubuntu ISO. You’ll be surprised and how much more simple — and minimal — your life can really be. πŸ˜€

31 thoughts on “Lessism over minimalism

  1. zoev9

    Quite simply you’re the one making the point! Just because you don’t have a flashy GUI interface doesnt mean it doesnt work. That guy needs to realize that minimalism is not lessism, it’s just functionality over hype

  2. normman

    Actually, I think you are the epitome of the minimalism he is touting. It appears that he is rebelling against a culture of masochism, a comptetion in which those who win are those who deprive themselves of the most. You, on the other hand, may seem to be depriving yourself–at least in the eyes of those using “modern” computers–but you certainly don’t do it out of competition. You’ve simply found the least amount you need to be productive, a method that works for you but probably not for others. This is the essence of minimalism.

  3. Greg

    My biggest problem comes when he says that MS Word is a good program that does what it needs to do. I know that personally, my experience with Word has been one of crashing and battling with the formatting. Give me Latex in Emacs any day.

  4. poss

    Find yourself a nice, clean middle-market cellphone, a music player that will play ogg tunes and is no bigger than a pack of gum, a secondhand Pentium 4 laptop and an Ubuntu ISO. You’ll be surprised and how much more simple β€” and minimal β€” your life can really be. πŸ˜€

    ha! that is a classic quote i can relate to but i imagine a lot of people wouldn’t.

    Its almost near impossible now to buy a new cellphone without the camera etc. (in australia anyway) nokia sell what they call a “tradesman” phone which is essentially just a phone no gadgets but the stupid thing is you might pay more for that than one with the camera, bluetooth, modem etc.

    A while back i got a chipod nano off ebay it claimed to play ogg files but it doesn’t so that was a bit dissappointing tho there is probably a way to install the codecs.

    1. Peter

      I have the same problem. I got a Creative mp3 player and it only supports MTP so you must use specific software (or libmtp) to transfer files. If your player doesn’t play ogg check if there’s rockbox firmware for it. Unfortunately the list of supported players isn’t that long.

      I try to be a minimalist myself. I consider 800Mhz PIII, we have at school, fast and I’m still using my 10 years old desktop as a torrent slave.

    2. mulenmar

      If it’s a first generation Nano, Rockbox will run on it. There’s a port *in development* for the second generation, I use it together with the ipodlinux loader without issues.

      Rockbox can play OGG, Mp3, FLAC, and even properly encoded MPEG video. πŸ˜€ Not to mention some games I’ve never tried…

  5. Jan

    I wonder if his brain would explode if he had to use dwm and nano: “A dock, a dock. My kingdom for a dock.”.
    For me minimalism isn’t a “lifestyle choice”, its a survival method. Too much junk turns you into slow moving prey for the predatory marketing beasts. As for word processors; if you can say what you mean why do you need bold/italics and “cool” whatever?

  6. ErSandro

    Adding is easy. Removing keeping functionality is hard. Only someone who is able to remove can add wisely.

    To understand a tree you have to start from the root (:D).

  7. foo

    Minimalism is running a 286-cpu in 2010! πŸ˜€
    whatever happened to raimy’s newly acquired loot btw?

    1. gurkakrieg

      I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and get an embarrassing amount of satisfaction out of your success in rehabilitating abandoned electronics.

      For me, the crucial difference between what you are doing and minimalism/lessism is your respect and love (if that’s not too strong a term) for technology. It’s not about some abstract social philosophy that makes you feel better about yourself. The focus is on the machine as tool, pure and simple.

      It’s less of a minimalism and more of a maximalism of existing tech.

      Keep up the good work.

    2. K.Mandla Post author

      I’m not sure. I haven’t heard from him in a few days. You might have to stop over at his site to see if there are any updates. πŸ˜‰

  8. Nobody Important

    I agree with this blog. I read some minimal blogs (the irony astounds me at times) and their Mac lust is far too powerful to keep me engaged. Give me an old Ubuntu box and my Sansa Clip for real happiness.

  9. pkm

    I too enjoy the approach on this site. there is no fetish-isation of the objects. Maximum function from minimal expenditure. It all ends up being melted in China
    See Manufactured Landscapes

    I find the blind faith in certain brands astonishing.

    I have even been told that a new tablet released recently will be the saviour of the hospitals. Ofcourse 4 ft drops and IP54 rating didnt figure in their equations. People find ‘facts’ to reinforce their existing beliefs.

    The internet simply allows these people to congregrate, enlarging their strength of opinion. Like an atomic explosion one person hits another , who hits another.

    Explosions occur when the two opposing parties collide and blog comment wars ensue.Interesting.

    Its amazing.

  10. keithpeter

    “My other favorite example is word processing the hip new thing to do is write in text editors instead of Microsoft Word, because they don’t have all the other features that β€œjust distract us.” As far as I’m concerned, if the debate between making a word bold or italicized is so paralyzing that you can’t get anything done, computers might not be for you.”

    Lovely example of the ‘straw man’ argument, thanks. I’ve got corpulent and lazy. I’m using crunchbang linux (the ‘statler’ alpha built on Debian Squeeze).

  11. zoev9

    I just started looking into other “Minimalism” blogs. I can’t belive how many of them center around a MacBook Pro and OSX!
    Kmandla you’re a true minimalist. It’s about getting the most out of less.

  12. Mini Malism

    Maybe minimalism (and even lessism) should mean using newer, smaller, quieter, more efficient machines rather than old clunkers. You can still run a slim system on top of that.
    You shouldn’t only limit your scope to software. Look at the hardware you’re running. Hah.

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  15. eric

    I truly enjoy this blog and follow it regularly (albeit sporadically, if that makes any sense…).

    However, I would like to suggest that the attitude towards minimalism need not be the same for both hardware and software. I use (and need to use) very fast computers for what I do (algorithm design for optimisation) so my hardware is never what one would consider minimalistic; however, I do believe in software not getting in the way so I typically use very simple interfaces and usually text based tools when I can (linux with ratpoison, emacs, org mode and that’s about it really).

    For me, it’s definitely all about functionality!

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    1. eric

      It all depends on your objective function… in my case, I use one tool (emacs) for the vast majority of my computer work (code development, writing articles, email, etc.). Hence minimal == 1 tool! The fact that emacs runs perfectly fine on even my wee Nokia internet table (N800) seems minimal enough for me as well in terms of resource requirements.


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