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I am a Luddite in a sea of techies, swimming desperately to stay afloat. Everyone else is safely tethered to their smartphone or smartwatch, peacefully guided through the Information Age, a million facts at their fingertips. In the meantime, I wear an actual watch – with actual hands, that actually ticks – and still look up words in the dictionary.
I’m not trying to paint too dark of a picture here: As with many people in their 30s, I own a laptop and a cellphone and use the internet on a daily basis. I’m a high-school teacher, so I try to incorporate various kinds of media in my lessons throughout the year. I know how to use PowerPoint. I like being able to access Netflix through my TV.
But my laptop is exclusively for writing, my cellphone is basically a fossil and I still own an mp3 player instead of an iPod. Within the context of the progressively advancing, techno-savvy 21st century, “Luddite” seems to fit me.
The word sounds archaic and heavy, like something that would make a weighted thunk if you dropped it on the floor. “Luddite: noun, a member of any of the bands of English artisans who rioted against mechanization and destroyed machinery from 1811-1816; a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.” The dictionary definition is startlingly accurate when applied to me, excluding the reference to willful destruction. I respect technology – how far it has come and how it continues to advance human achievement – but I retain my suspicions about exactly how far this usefulness extends.
My apprenticeship to Ludditism began at age 11, when I was given a spiral-bound agenda in school. Suddenly, my odd childhood penchant for making lists – of dog breeds I liked, all the Muppets I could remember, important superstitions or my favourite foods – had a viable outlet. A place for all my lists, and everything in its place at last; chaos becomes order! From day one, my agenda and I were best friends.
I continued to buy and use agendas in high school, university, teacher’s college, and now as a teacher myself, the saga continues. Aside from just work, my agenda contains: reminders to myself of chores or errands that need to be run; appointments with friends or the doctor or the dentist; vacations; important phone numbers of friends and family; and the list goes on. With the ink, the dog-eared pages, the fingerprints, the torn-out corners and the numerous exclamation points, I feel like I’ve put my memories into something real and tangible.
Why don’t I keep everything on my phone? I know that it’s probably simpler and faster and cheaper than buying a new agenda every year. It reminds you, too, with small, comforting noises.
But it’s not for me. My phone feels, to me, more like an appliance or a rented hot-water heater. My handwritten notes convey my state of being (“SICK, call work, mark response journals, msg Tom for more gingerale”), excitement (“The job is MINE!!! Wine on way home) and pizzazz (Date Night! Dinner @ 6, Tom making FRENCH food, pick up brie) and read the same way I would explain these events to a friend. Using your phone that way is similar to letting the important facts of your life disappear into the black hole of the internet. My agenda, properly deciphered, is like the code book to cracking…. myself.
As an English teacher and former English-history major, my agenda helped to bridge the divide between my love of lists to my love of books themselves. In an era when the printed word is starting to ever-so-slowly disappear – which breaks my heart – nothing comforts quite like the sound of a page turning, a sigh and a whisper combined; so soft that it’s more of a susurration than a proper sound. These are among the first sounds of my morning. And I love them.
An e-reader was once recommended to me as a gift. I laughed.
If I had to credit someone for what I have become – the Luddite surviving in techno-Narnia – it would have to be my mother. She read to me and my three sisters constantly when we were small. Every night before bed, one of us would pick a book, and all four of us would curl up like caterpillars on the small, flower-print couch and she would read in a soft, melodic tone; she would do voices, she would do action sounds, she would growl and honk and whistle and scream with terror. It was far better than TV, which we weren’t allowed to watch between Monday and Thursday anyway. She opened the door of my imagination with words; and then, through continued routine, she busted it wide open.
Being a Luddite is a badge I wear proudly. The 21st century world is one of convenience and ease, but that can also render it cold and distant. Books, agendas and the printed word (whether typed or scrawled) bring colour and spontaneity and vibrance to our lives, in ways that technology cannot, because they are tactile mediums.
So bring it on. The Luddites are here to stay. My library full of books will take on your iPhone any day.
Elena Saplys Krakowski lives in Mississauga, Ont.