The Luddite

Thu, 01/21/2021 - 5:15pm

Back in my school teaching days I proudly called myself a “Luddite raging against the machine,” because back in those days I truly hated the linear and newfangled technology of computers and word processors. Moreover, like the Luddites of the textile industry during the 19th century - who sabotaged labor saving machines - I actually entertained the thought of what would happen if I somehow mistakenly ahem, tripped over the plug, and thereby shut down the entire school district’s computer systems. I know, I’m a rebel; however, in my heart of hearts I just knew this would not be a prudent decision for a teacher of the Youth of America to make, as it would not play well in the court of public opinion. But still, I raged.

The term Luddite goes back to Nottingham, England in the early 1800s. The term grew out of a movement of people who were basically against industrialization and automation. It’s easy to see how the term became germane to the digital and computer age, in which we are all affected by, and ensconced within these days. The inventions, and applications of these inventions have made us dependent on this technology, and we’d be in quite a mess if someone did trip over the plug; or pull it out of the socket. Today, with this new age of technology we have access to our digital toys to soothe and entertain us on the quick with a simple click. Ironically, for a guy who had great disdain for our current technology, I am currently in the digital loop - I know, I’m cool - and have all of the connective accoutrements. Furthermore, I’m no longer able to call myself a “Luddite raging against the machine.” I’ve actually become more of a “Geezer who is enmeshed in the machine.”

Here is a progression of my enmeshment into the World Wide Web:

• When I finally leapt into the digital abyss upon retiring from teaching English and Theater, I had the head computer guy at my school rig up a computer for me so I could write and pitch stories on an old school and beefy four-pound Dell laptop. I was cavalier and full of renegade ‘tude, and wanted no internet nonsense; I wanted only Microsoft Word. The guy hooked me up with a sweet set up for fifty scoots. I loved that beat up machine which I referred to as my “typewriter.” I punched out many columns for The Block Island Times on that beat up Dell. One day it just stopped working. (I still keep it in my Jeep thinking that maybe one day it will work again.) 

• When the Dell ghosted on me, it was time to get a new laptop. I hit Staples, and told the guy, “Just find me a typewriter that I can use to pitch my writing.” The guy paused, and looked at me. Then he said, “Sir, all computers have internet capability; you can’t really just buy a computer that’s only capable of being a typewriter.” Here we go, I thought; more complications in my life. I explained to the guy that I wanted simplicity and just wanted word processing capability for my writing. I made it clear I wanted no fancy whistles and bells, and that perhaps he could go grab me a simple computer for short money; the guy hooked me up the best he could. So, he sold me the rig on which I’m currently writing this column, and the thing has been good and it’s pretty simple to use. I like it.

• I was a flip phone guy for years while the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates et al, were designing devices to get into the hands of the masses; thereby making a ton of dough. The design arc from the flip phone to the iPhone was very helpful for people who write and must contact editors. In my flip phone phase, I could have an editor call me to ask a column question. Then, I’d need to track down a computer: at home, a library, or maybe a stranger’s laptop, in order to email the editor. I remember a kid who worked at the ferry had a phone with email access, and many times I’d ask, “Hey Zack, can I use your computer phone for a minute?” Zack would pull up an email screen, and bang, the editor got an answer. Now, I roll with my Apple 16 (or whatever it is) iPhone. I’ve got my own computer phone.

• Over the past several years at the Block Island Ferry Christmas parties, I have won some very cutting-edge electronics from the ferry raffles. About fifteen years ago I won a humongous television set that played VHS, and DVDs. I also finally rigged it up with cable about five years later. I loved that set. About eight years later at the party, I won a Kindle Fire which was great for reading big thick books that I didn’t need to hump around in my backpack. I used it for a few years, and recently my wife figured out how to rig it up for movies and obscure documentaries. Now, the bride is free to roam and watch whatever grabs her attention as she scrolls for content.

• At this year’s Christmas party, we had a raffle that the company did via a group text. That day, I was on my sailboat grinding out nouns and verbs for a column and the drawing began at 1. Next to my laptop, sat my iPhone which would signal that the raffle was in progress. The first thing someone won was a huge flatscreen television worth a lot of dough. Other assorted gifts were won as the day progressed. Near the end of the raffle, I was typing away and I heard Megan Moran say, “This is for an Apple Watch, so here we go, and Nerissa will pick out the winner.” As Nerissa reached into the bag of numbers, I heard her say, “and the number is, 43.” I looked at my number, and lo and behold it was the number “43.” I’d won an Apple Watch in real time! A few days later a very patient freight guy at the ferry dock named Will Corson rigged up my tragically hip and cutting-edge watch and gave me a tutorial on how the thing can count steps, check my blood pressure and time a three-minute egg.

Finally, this scribbler is no longer a Luddite.