In 1799, Edward Ludlum, popularly known as Ned Ludd, smashed two knitting frames in a fit of passion. (At the risk of being overly clever, I’d say fit of pique, one definition of pique being “a durable fabric of cotton, rayon, or silk.”). Or so the story goes. Some contend he is as mythical as Robin Hood. In any event, in the early nineteenth century, as the forces of the Industrial Revolution were gathering strength, textile workers rebelled against automated looms and knitting frames, calling themselves Luddites in homage to Ludd. The term has come down through the centuries to describe opponents of the dehumanizing and demoralizing effects of technology.
While I’ve never smashed an appliance or electronic device, I’ve come close to tossing, hurling, throttling, discarding them. Curses to vent my frustration have to satisfy, mainly because I’m too cheap to replace the item in question (yes, I’m talking to you, microwave oven. And, no, "charred" is not a heating option). I am not a Luddite. I need, use, enjoy, and admire the many conveniences available in this glorious age of technological innovation. What gives me pause, though, is being seduced by the illusion of control. I may perform a task efficiently and accurately, but I hope never to forget I am at the mercy of the chip, the hard drive, the whatchamacallit, the flange. Not to mention the mind that created the device.
Recently, I watched a half-dozen kids walk home from school. Every last one of them was staring at their smartphones, typing away, utterly oblivious to the gorgeous, cloudless blue sky, the chirping birds, the woman—me—who watched them from her porch with dismay. Are they in control—or under control? What happens to spatial awareness, navigational skills, the oddly enjoyable experience of getting lost—and finding one’s way again—when a device directs every left and right turn? Dependency on technology comes with its own dangers, not the least of which is creating another “lost generation,” without the intriguing Hemingway-esque connotations.
I’m nowhere near having the answers to the conundrums posed by life in the twenty-first century. All I can do is keep asking the questions—and beg my microwave oven to please, please, please stop burning the popcorn.