Take a Luddite to Lunch (and Turn Off the Phone)

April 28, 2010 Updated: September 29, 2015

A young man who is studying photography in graduate school sits on an early morning express train heading from the suburbs of New Jersey to Manhattan. While listening to one of his favorite songs on his iPhone, with the phone, he also posts a message to his MySpace page, stating that he cannot meet a nice girl.

Two rows behind him, sits an attractive, but painfully shy young woman. She had seen the young man on the platform of the Hamilton Station for two weeks. It took her the entire 14 days to work up enough courage to say a few clever words to him as they were boarding the train. He didn’t hear her because of how loud he was playing the music on his iPhone.

A middle-aged man returns to his home in Peoria, Ill. after a long business trip to Chicago. His children are already asleep. He looks forward to hearing about his wife’s day. As he reaches the top of the stairs that leads to their room, he realizes that once again, his wife is not alone.

From the hallway, he sees the glow of her Blackberry illuminating her face as she peers down at it, pressing key after key. She looks up and smiles. “It’s got great apps,” she says.

In early April, we had a spectacular spring in Philadelphia. All the trees, bushes, and many flowers blossomed at once. Few people, except those with spring allergies, seemed to notice.

On breaks or lunchtime, I noticed countless people plugged into either an MP3 player or a cell phone. Most did not bother to look around at the visual feast that was all around them.

A woman I know noticed that I was smirking a bit when I was working on this article, and she asked me what I was thinking about. She then told me that she had recently met her three sisters at a club so that they could all “catch up.” However, her sisters spent most of their time on their cell phones talking to other people, so she left. 

I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to be someone in his or her 20s who grew up with all this technology, not knowing anything else. One of my earliest childhood memories was attending the 1964 World’s Fair, where one of its sponsors, AT&T, showcased its new product: touch tone telephones.

Yes, it’s true. I am one of those people who now and then say I am “dialing” a phone number. So much has changed in the last few decades, it’s hard to describe concisely. Modifications in social behavior due to technology is not a new story. I am simply saying that it seems to be accelerating.

Not long ago, I attended a journalism conference. Two hosts said that the biggest changes they have seen among young people due to the Internet were the expectation that all information should be free and the loss of a sense of privacy. Regarding the latter, shortly afterward, a college senior told me that his friend lost a lucrative photography deal with a prominent beverage company because he released the details of the deal on Twitter.

Speaking of Twitter, at the same conference, a personable and knowledgeable journalist, perhaps in his late 20s or early 30s, gave a presentation to reporters on how to develop story leads through Twitter. He had three smart phones clipped to him. He was very thin and was pale as a ghost. My paternal instincts kicked in: I wanted to take his phones away, hand him a sandwich, and bring him out into the sunlight.

During the late 19th century, there were people in Great Britain called Luddites, who followed a mythical leader called King Ludd. They were against the technological changes brought about by the industrial revolution. They believed that technology would destroy the natural ways human beings were meant to live.

The Luddites, to protest, would destroy the looms in textile factories. Of course, that is going to an extreme. Today, the term Luddite is used to mean anyone who resists technological change.

For myself, technology is a great aid. For instance, my wife and I volunteer for human rights projects. With our computers and Internet access, we can accomplish so much. However, lately I keep getting urges to pitch hay on a farm for a few days.

I’ve noticed that people who do not wish to have cell phones or Internet access are often treated as oddities. Yet I’ve noticed that many of these people, who are usually older, have a wealth of wisdom, history, and social decorum to learn from. Perhaps these people are here to remind us not to lose our humanity to technology.

So next time you meet a Luddite, perhaps spend a little time with him or her, and be open to reminders of how human beings were meant to relate to one another.

If you like this article, please send a link for it to people you know.
Though later on, perhaps call a relative to see how he or she is doing, or go for a walk or a bicycle ride with someone.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Phil Randell