A Neo-Luddite’s Guide To Surviving the 21st Century

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” –Henry David Thoreau

Even as I sit typing this, I realize the contradictory nature of the headline: advice for a Neo-Luddite? On a blog? On the internet? Typed on the computer? WHAT? But, hey. This is the 21st Century after all.

For those of you unfamiliar with Neo-Luddites or Luddites, a Luddite is someone who fears or simply does not like technology. The original Luddites protested (sometimes violently) textile production innovations in England in the early 19th century. In the 21st century, you can find Neo-Luddites scouring antique stores for typewriters, in possession of a set of ink and quills, desperately denying that newspapers will ever die out, and avoiding places like the Apple store like they would the ebola virus.

Although I am a Millennial, I am a Neo-Luddite. The day I got my first cell phone was a day of embarrassment for me (a day I postponed as long as possible). Facebook is a necessary evil for promoting writing, an evil the worth of which I consider regularly. Ebooks and tablets are the devil incarnate and I would really love to break them all.

Despite my Neo-Luddite tendencies, I somehow ended up pursuing a career that is becoming more and more electronic, as well as more dependent on modern technology.

So how do I survive it? Good question. Below are a few tricks I employ to ensure my sanity in a world that values the latest and greatest technology more than almost anything else.

1. Pick a time (or multiple times) each day to turn off your phone.

The catch-22 of having a cell phone is that it makes you more available, which can be great and one of the reasons they grew in popularity so rapidly. But being more available can be horrendously stressful. Suppose you are trying to meditate or are trying to focus on writing or studying and your phone rings (or more likely these days, you receive a text). Your brain is rapidly pulled out of focus, even if you choose not to respond. Regaining that focus can be extremely difficult. Especially if you’re like me and for some reason feel a nagging to respond just to get it out of the way.

If you choose a period of time each day (while you’re sleeping doesn’t count, although that’s probably a good idea) to turn off your phone, you are free to be free! Free from technology, even if it’s just for a while. And if you choose to use that time to focus on those tasks that require deep mental or spiritual focus, all the better.

2. Turn off email notifications.

This is in reference to email capabilities on smartphones. Many people have jobs require employees to have smartphones, even if that means the company foots the bill. For a Luddite this trend can be a nightmare, especially when it comes to email. Sure, the purpose of a smartphone for work often is email. But as long as you are a responsible employee there is no reason that every ten minutes or so you have to hear that obnoxious ping or swish indicating a new email has arrived. It is over-stimulating for many people, but more importantly it puts technology in control of you, instead of leaving you in control of technology. That is one of the key problems a Luddite sees with technology: that instead of people living to live and interact and be, they are living to be at the beck and call of some kind of technology. Removing automatic email notifications (and while we’re on the topic, ANY notifications) helps you to be in control.

3. Be that person who lugs around a 600 page book on an airplane.

I recently returned from a trip to Alaska (by the way, a good place to be if you aren’t a huge fan of technology). As I boarded the plane home, a flight attendant saw my enormous hardback copy of The Historian and said, “Wow, a real book. You don’t see those very often anymore.” I had been up since 2:30 a.m. so didn’t respond vocally with anything very interesting. But my sleep-deprived brain ran through a rapid cycle of thoughts:

“Uggghhhh! E-readers are the worst!”

“Haha, yeah. And I get to keep reading my book during takeoff and landing.”

“How could I possibly board a plane without a book?”


And don’t limit yourself to only lugging around books on airplanes. Take them to work, school (school books don’t count), movies (yes, I have taken a book to a movie). Anywhere you feel you might have a chance to read and escape even momentarily from the technology-crazed world surrounding you.

4. Be the last to know about any new technology or trendy website.

Honestly, Neo-Luddites probably don’t even have to try to do this. I know I don’t. On many occasions, someone has been trying to talk to me about a new technology or website that it seems everyone else in the world understands. Frequently I have no idea what they are talking about. And I don’t mind in the least. Why clutter up my life with more websites and more stuff? I don’t need it.

Frankly, even though I have a Twitter account, I can’t figure out its purpose beyond promoting writing. And I can’t make head or tail of what Tumblr and Pintrest are supposed to be. And that’s okay.

This trick can also apply to viral trends. For example, if you ask me what ‘gangnam style’ is all I can say is that it was a trendy video once. I think. Is that what it was? Anyway, I heard people say it a lot but I never really knew what it was. And my life is still pretty neat so I don’t think I missed out much.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be informed. But I think Neo-Luddites are pretty good at filtering out the chaff from the wheat when it comes to media.

5. Go outside frequently.

Often the best ways to tune out the technology you really just don’t love is to go outside–especially if you can go to a wilderness or nature area.

In my experience you may have to adapt the best you can given where you live. For example, when I lived in Columbia, Missouri a year ago, there wasn’t much wilderness around. I often wandered around thinking, “Where did all the wilderness go?” There was, however, a designated “nature area” down the hill from my apartment. Granted, even in the middle of it I could still hear the cars whizzing down the streets that circled the area, but it was better than nothing.

On the flipside, in Alaska just standing outside your front door can be sufficient. I would recommend venturing further than your front door, but it just goes to show how different places offer different levels of outdoorsy sanctuary.

One thing to remember: when you are going outside to give yourself a break from technology, don’t bring your cellphone or iPod or iPad! (duh.)

6. If you’re a student, don’t take a laptop to class.

I remember those long gone, whimsical days of college. I felt dumbfounded whenever I sat behind someone who brought a laptop to class. I wondered, “How is this person learning anything? He’s watching funny cat videos instead of paying attention to this lecture on bone composition.” True story. What confounded me was that students who brought laptops toggled back and forth between Facebook, Youtube, email, and maybe lecture notes. How do they learn?

I guess that’s their learning style but I have always been grateful that I opted to use notebooks and pens. They’re lighter and I was less likely to be regretfully distracted. And if I ever did succumb to distraction, drawing a picture or writing a poem in the margins of my notebook seemed like a much better use of my time than Facebook.

7. Buy handmade goods and homegrown foods.

Mechanization invading every aspect of my life is one my horrors. Sometimes it seems like my nightmare is unavoidable. However, there are so many artisans and farmers around that it is feasible to fill your life with goods and foods untouched by much–if any–machinery beyond the ordinary.

Farmers markets, craft fairs, and used bookstores are your friends.

We live in a techno-crazed world, no doubt. And while it is absolutely unnecessary to wander the earth destroying technology (except maybe ebooks) like our Luddite forbears, it is possible to live a bit more simply.

You can read more by Tamsen Maloy at storydreamcaster.wordpress.com and afemininecritique.wordpress.com.