The Last Luddite

[The Luddites were nineteenth-century English textile artisans who protested against newly-invented, time-saving machinery, such as power looms, during the Industrial Revolution. It’s come to mean anyone opposed to new technologies.]

Someone recently e-mailed me, asking if I ever updated my blog. How embarrassing! I haven’t posted since, well . . . never. My “blog” has the same post it did on day one of this web site. The baby who is its subject is now a happy young man in his twenties, more than a head taller than me! So yeah, it’s probably time to update.

It is a cliché—but oh, so true—that the older you get, the faster life speeds by. Like almost everyone I know, I am one of those people whose life runs like a very complicated and precise tango. More than two minutes behind, and I'm dancing to the wrong song. Luckily I'm a pretty organized person. I have the whole thing down to a science.

But I don’t like it. I prefer taking things nice and slow, if only I could. Every minute of every hour of every day seems to be filled. The devices which are supposed to make things easier seem to me to make things worse. They scream at you to take action: check your phone, answer office e-mails (even at night and on weekends), catch up with everyone’s news on Facebook. Obviously, technology has its place, but I’ve had to be dragged kicking and screaming to each new innovation. I resist because it hurts me to see technology taking the place of so many things I treasure. Walking through NYC’s Central Park at lunchtime, or even hiking on a mountaintop in Vermont, I want to cry when I see so many people glued to their phones, eyes closed and ears blocked to the sights and sounds of the wonders of the natural world around them. I feel a little like Emily in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

 So whenever I get the chance, I make my own feeble protest against the quick tempo of living. For example:

         I go for a walk to nowhere in particular. Phone off, no music playing—just legs for locomotion and eyes and ears for appreciating what’s around me.

         I cook and bake from scratch. I make my own yogurt, my own pizza, and my own bread: not all the time, but often. I don’t use a food processor, either, preferring the slow pace of grating and chopping by hand. 

         I write thank-you notes by hand and send them by snail-mail. Hey, I just read in the New York Times that this is coming back into fashion!

         I sit down for meals with the whole family together. It’s how I was brought up, and it seemed to work. My parents are about to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, and my three sisters and I all still talk to each other. It’s easy to find reasons you can’t do meals together, but worth ignoring those reasons whenever possible.

         I try to ignore the persistent inner voice that tells me to multi-task. I used to think that being an accomplished multi-tasker was a badge to wear proudly. I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe giving one thing my full attention is even better.

So there you are—the suggestions of the last Luddite. Maybe one of these days I’ll even revert to writing not on the computer, but on one of those yellow legal pads I used to use, and a—what’s it called?—oh yeah, pencil.

May 2014