In Section 1: Planting, the author explains a little of his background, going from MIT graduate student studying the effects of technology on humanity to taking the plunge and deciding to live among an Amish-like group with his new wife for 18 months.
Not satisfied with the loose interpretation taken by many modern Amish, Eric finds a community that is more strict than most Amish groups and even Mennonites. The community they settle on contains a mish-mash of locals as well as "foreigners" looking to live a technology-free life. This was the land of horse-drawn wagons, corn husked by hand, hay loaded by hand and firewood cut with bucksaws. There was no electricity, phones, cars or motors of any sort.
Eric and his wife, Mary, end up leasing the home of a local family (the Millers) who provide them with far more than just housing. Straight out of the gates, the Millers are loaning them not just furnishings for their house, but a kerosene range, a hand crank washing machine and other equipment. To top it off, the many talented and skilled Miller children provide guidance and support to help get their first farming season off the ground by planting their garden before they arrive and helping them with other chores like spreading manure and providing planting tips.
Eric quickly learns that they are ill equipped for the life they have chosen, not having the background and having a whole lot of naivete in spite of how much research they have done. Help from the neighbors is more than welcome and the Miller family also helps them build up their cash crops by loaning them space to grow pumpkins as well as sorghum for making molasses. While on one hand their neighbors were overly helpful and seemed to anticipate their needs before they did, they also came off as distant and hard to read.
The phrase "many hands make light work" was woven quite a bit into this tale and the concept of many people working together made the author forget or, at least, made the back-breaking jobs more bearable and, in some cases, turned it into a tolerable, if not pleasant, job instead.
Gradually, as you applied yourself to your task, the threads of friendship and conversation would grow and connect you to laborers around you. Then everything suddenly became inverted. You'd forget you were working and get caught up in the camaraderie, the sense of lightened effort. This surely must rank among the greatest of labor-savings secrets. Work folded into fun and disappeared. Friendship, conversation, exercise, fresh air, all melded together into a single act of mutual self-forgetting.As the season wears on, the Millers drop off a milk cow for their use and they are reminded that their beans are getting too far along to be picked, that the weeds are taking over and they need to start collecting firewood for the winter. Keeping track of all the duties they needed to get done was difficult. Having the neighbors offering tips on one hand was extremely helpful but, on the other hand, Eric and his wife were somewhat embarrassed by their needing to have these things pointed out.
When the neighbors offer to provide running water to the house using a device called a "ram" (basically a water mill for pumping water), Eric felt that this mechanization was a little to close to breaking their technology-free rules. In looking at the technologies that the "Minimites" used - air tight combustion wood fired cooking, canning equipment, buggies and cultivators - Eric wondered where the line was drawn and also pondered the immense skills these people had to make up for the lack of technology.
The second to last chapter of this section revolved around the problems they ran into with their lack of refrigeration and the inconvenience of not being able to keep leftovers cool. This was problematic in that they had to make three meals a day from scratch rather than making larger meals for use on multiple days. They solved the problem by storing leftovers in large glass jars and submerging them in cool water from the cistern.
One thing that Eric and Mary discovered was that, without the distractions of modern life and technology, even with the extra work, they had a lot more time on their hands. They learned the difference between "fast time" and "slow time", with fast time referring to the modern convention of daylights savings time and slow time referring to the preservation of the natural markers of dawn, noon and dusk. In other words, "it was the Minimites acknowledgment of an entirely different structure in life, an entirely different pulse."
Feel free to answer some or all of the following questions (even if you haven't read the book). Or you can just comment on the first section as a whole.
1. Do you feel that you are knowledgeable enough about how to live technology-free if you had to? In other words, do you feel like you have the skills to do what they did or do you think you would fail at first and need a lot of help?
2. Do you think that using a ram to deliver water to their house is "cheating" or well within the "rules" they have placed on themselves?
3. Did you feel like their neighbors liked being helpful or were resentful for feeling like they had to help Eric and his wife through their ineptitude?
4. Would you be able to live without a refrigerator? Or electricity? Or running water? What would you miss the most?
5. What do you think Eric meant when referring to "slow time" as the concept that "leisure didn't end when work began, but pervaded every moment of the day"?
6. Do you feel rushed in "fast time" with all our distractions, TV, movies, Internet? Do you wish you could follow the rhythm of the sun and enjoy a more leisurely day without the fast paced distractions of set work and school schedules?