Posted by: Yawn the Post | March 4, 2011

The Less App

I’ve spent most of the winter trying to stop myself craving the new, the novelty, the gadget.  I want to slow down, start tasting my food, smelling my coffee, and so on.  If my brain is hard-wired for novelty, and I think it probably is, I need to rewire it.

And I realise there’s a term for what I’m looking for – it’s an ugly hippie word  – ‘mindfulness’ – a word coined by psychologists, but probably has its origins in Buddhism.  When I was young I remember my dad quoting W H Davies, the original supertramp, at every opportunity:

‘What is this life if, full of care

We have no time to stand and stare.’

And although Davies was no Buddhist, his descriptions of escorting sheep and cattle across the Atlantic suggest he did care deeply for the welfare of these animals.  Moreso, perhaps, than he cared for himself.  Davies, by wanting less, began to appreciate more, and was quite ahead of his time.

Buddhist or tramp, I need to start taking notice of how much time I waste craving new stuff, reading about new, sleek, zingy, sexy, dazzling gizmos, full of the promise of excitement, of potential, of what will happen when I get my hands on one.

The warm glow of the Apple Shop never fails to lure me in, and once I’m there, I begin to wonder if my sentences could somehow become crisper, my vocabulary richer if I bought a sweet, creamy new MacBook.

It takes enormous self-control to resist.  I have to hold back.  My six-year-old computer cannot be responsible for my bad prose.  Nevertheless, that silver, Pacific Ocean light that illuminates all Apple products, those fruity, chewy icons, they are all too tempting.

And so it must follow that I will resist the iPad, and the Kindle.  The Kindle 3, according to Amazon’s website, stores 3,500 books.  If it takes a week to read a book, a full Kindle will take 67 years to get through.  So, what will Kindle 4 offer?  More space?  No, either it will be made of everlasting chocolate, or ebooks will inevitably start to contain more dazzling graphics, or clever animations, and pretty soon the idea of the book will begin to merge with everything else that exists out there in the cyberspace.  Apples tempt us, Kindle will spark a fire – it’s the traditional book that’s burning.

But, knowing how weak willed I am, I am likely to go out and buy a Kindle next week.  How can I resist?  I can’t! Temptation is too great!

The Kindle’s astonishing success cannot be sustained without it destroying what it sets out to do.  If it becomes yet another multimedia gizmo, how will future generations be able to distinguish between a book and a website?  Or a book and an animated movie? Does it matter?  Well, I think it does, and so does Amazon.  They have a plan.  And that is, to give Kindles away.

How will I be able to resist then?

I know that the same Luddite argument could have been used in the early days of the iPod.  But, and here is the distinction, although my (new) iPod can contain a week of music, I can do other things when I’m listening to music.  I have, just recently, painted a bedroom ceiling, cut a hedge and gone for a hike whilst plugged into my iPod.  If I tried the same thing when reading a Kindle, I would probably end up falling off a ladder, cutting off my head with the hedgetrimmer, or stepping off the top of the Cribyn and plummeting to my death.

However, that doesn’t stop the craving.  Despite the constant rationalizing, something eats away at me.  It’s desire, hunger, greed, a longing to get my hands on something shiny and new.  And it just won’t go away.  I can already smell the factory new Kindle, feel that gentle tuft of air as I pull it from its case.  Delicious.

No! I won’t do it!  Keep away Satan!

I don’t want 3D anything, or the iPhone fishing app, or the piano app, or the scrabble app, or an iPhone for that matter. I don’t want a new laptop, HDTV, or a house in Tuscany*.  I don’t want to see the world, I want to stay still.  I want less.  Less, less, less.

So, let me introduce to you the Less App.  You can download it here, for nothing.  But like John Lennon’s Nutopian National Anthem, or John Cage’s 4’33’’, it’s silent, or rather, nothing at all.  All proceeds go to the Technophiles’ Retreat, an imaginary home for the cluttered soul, the technologically obese.

I moved to serene mid Wales to declutter my life.  I needed some thinking time.  I wanted things to be simple.  I am attracted to simple stories, ordinary lives.  Before I moved here, I imagined myself looking at stones, and listening to birdsong.  And sometimes I do. Yesterday I noticed the colours of lichen on the bark of a beech tree: they were symphonic.  I am making a concerted effort to want less, do less, find more.

And in my next blog, when I tell you how fabulous my new Kindle is, and how much I’m enjoying the my new MacBook, please don’t leave comments telling me what a muddled hypocrite I am.  I know that already.

*This is a blatant and unforgivable lie.



  1. Kindle for PC?
    I tell you, it is great to be able to read a book within a minute of reading a positive review of it.

  2. I’ve just been to London for a few days and expected to see lots of these gizmos in evidence on the Tube, but instead only saw ads for them. Imagining if I had one, I realised I would probably be using it to skim read, not actually read, books with which I wanted to familiarise myself but not actually sink deeply into – which I’d still buy for real.

    But if I bought an e-reader it would not be a Kindle, since Amazon is not on balance a benign influence on the publishing trade and writers’ welfare.

    For example, Amazon monitors your use of the Kindle. You are being watched and your reading habits reported back to their marketing department.

    Furthermore, you don’t own the e-books you purchase, only the right to browse them, and Amazon has the right to withdraw them from your Kindle without compensating you if its own rights over that book change. This famously and ironically happened with Orwell’s 1984 – anyone who had downloaded it found suddenly that it disappeared from their machine with no compensation.

    It’s as if the bookshop owner came into your house one night and took back a book you’d bought from them.

    Amazon squeezes royalty rates for writers in its deals with publishers, so the more bookshios go out of business as a result of its price squeezing, the less royalty we get even if we were to sell more books.

    It also encourages the purchase of second hand copies on which we get no royalty at all.

    So I don’t have Amazon links on my website, because they’ll buy a copy that someone is selling for 1p plus postage. Instead I let people purchase directly from me using PayPal the copies I buy from my publisher at discount, so I make substantially more per sale – although of course I recognise most people opt to buy a copy for 1p from Amazon rather than a £5 one from me.

    I recently redesigned George Monbiot’s website and initially put in links to Amazon so people could buy his books there. After we had a conversation about this the anti-capitalist campaigner opted to remove the links and let people buy wherever they chose – and for example support their local bookshop – surely a good idea – even if he lost sales as a result.

    Come on, let’s not conspire as writers against our own interests, however seductive the temptation is! You’re right, Andrew – it is Satan!!!

  3. I know now what it must have felt like to be the last monk in the scriptorium, with people outside saying, ‘Have you bought one of those Gutenbergs yet?…’

  4. All this reminded me of this sketch from you tube

    (just type in Monk and book sketch if this link doesn’t work)

    • Brilliant Frances! I want one! Can you still get them?

      • oh I love the monks! And a brilliant post, Andrew, a moment of sanity. I’ve posted to facebook to share with all of us who are technically obese….

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