In the book “How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else” (Gotham, 2007), author Michael Gates Gill tells how he fell rather heavily from a life of luxury to working at Starbucks – after the age of 50.
He had it all, and then he lost it all. But he wasn’t a lottery winner who squandered his newfound wealth. He was born into a wealthy family with all the advantages that can provide, including an Ivy League education and a corporate senior management job.
As you read the book, you will learn how it all came about, but if you fast-forward to the end, you will discover that he is happier than ever in his new, simpler life in a rented apartment with plastic furniture. Even though he is now a best-selling author and has sold the movie rights to his book, he apparently has no plans to change. (My money says that if a woman enters the scene, this could all change in a flash!)
Some days, I think it would be so very nice to live a simpler life. I sometimes consider giving away a lot of my possessions, never getting another manicure or pedicure, letting my hair go any-which-way, disconnecting my email address and living without a computer.
And then my nightmare is over, and I wake up with a start to realize that I must have been dozing. It really could be a good dream, but when I consider the true ramifications of that kind of life, I am not at all confident that I could pull it off – at least not here, where most of us live, in the heart of Silicon Valley.
I do actually have a few friends who do not have cable TV, but the caveat is that they do watch movies – lots of movies. They righteously boast that the news is a bummer, along with the mindless dribble that makes up much of today’s network television. I equally righteously disagree. I would be adrift without my portion of “Downton Abbey,” “Mr. Selfridge,” “Call the Midwife,” “Mad Men” and “The Good Wife,” to name just a few.
Could I really disconnect and disavow my stuff? I recently suffered a mishap with my smartphone and it was lost to me for a day or two. I was amazed at how strangely liberated I felt. I was like a shadow self of days gone by. Not concerned about missing a call or email. No instant-anything at my fingertips. I’m sure, however, that if I continued in that condition, I would deteriorate rapidly, alternating between states of peace and panic (the latter no doubt prevailing).
According to Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I wonder if it is better to live a desperate life plugged-in or unplugged? I’m just saying … I think the whole world is not in Kansas anymore. Not even those who actually live there.
Sharon Lennox-Infante, a Los Altos resident, is contributing editor for Book Buzz.