Media

Luddites Unite!

By Jenny Dunlop
Published April 22, 2010

Okay, I need to know: am I the only person who is bewildered by the current Facebook-Twitter mania that has enthralled our society?

Am I alone in scratching my information-overloaded head and wondering why everyone needs to know everything about everyone else every second of the day? Are we that desperate for entertainment that we will follow a Hollywood celebrity's lunch menu with her "Tweets" on the subject?

Do we really need to know that Lindsay Lohan's ex-girlfriend spit in her face at a party and left with Miley Cyrus' ex? (I know this because I read it in the newspaper, solely for the purpose of researching this article. Really.)

I suppose I'm just too old (48, since you ask) to be fascinated by the minutia of the fabulous young stars of today. Would I have followed Shaun Cassidy's on-line antics if given the chance in 1977? I guess we'll never know.

And while YouTube has its uses (loved the Susan Boyle debut clip!), there are definitely too many awkward pre-pubescent wannabe singers who feel the need to share their fledgling efforts with the rest of the planet. Not to mention indiscretions captured on somebody's cell phone, which will now circulate in cyberspace forever.

I can remember the days of simple telephone calls to share relevant details ("Nancy, ask your mom if you can come to my place after school"). Or, if you were lucky, a hand-written letter from an out-of-town pal was delivered right to your actual mailbox!

You remember, those boxes nailed to your house that brought tidings of the outside world?

Sigh. The fact that the news in the letter was at least a week old by the time I read it did not bother me a whit. I don't remember wishing that I could have a minute-by-minute account of the sender's daytime activities:

4:11 PM Going to ride my really cool new bike today for the first time!
4:29 PM Juice and cookies in front of T.V., ready for 'The Brady Bunch'
4:59 PM OMG!! Great episode! Jan tried to bleach her freckles so she'd look more like Marcia!

I do love looking at photos, and take lots, somewhat ineptly, on holiday. I even have a digital camera, bought by my husband, who felt I needed an upgrade from my 20-year-old Fisher-Price model.

When I am ready to develop my photos, I take out the little square thingy from the inside of the camera, trot down to my local Shoppers, and pop said square thingy into the machine. Voila! Four minutes later I have my photos in hand!

Will I "post" them online? Um, no. I'll put them in a shoebox, neatly labeled, and bring them out when I feel nostalgic. If you'd like to see them, let me know. No, I didn't think so.

In this day of instant communication and sharing pretty much every detail of one's life, I yearn for secrecy, for a sense of mystery, for a feeling that I am privileged to be the recipient of someone's special news, and not just because I am one of 119 Facebook friends.

Creeping someone's "wall" for private details is just, well, creepy. I can't help but think that if we all got up from our computers more often we'd have time to actually connect face-to-face with those who mean the most to us.

Don't get me wrong: I am computer-literate to a degree. I have an eight-year old desktop Dell, which allows me to type documents (such as this one), get and send email, and check the internet. I'm sure the computer is capable of other things, too, but I can't be bothered to figure out what they are.

The other day I was sent an email attachment in an obscure format, and I couldn't open it. The attachment was sent in another "simple, easy, fast" format. Still no luck. After twenty minutes spent trying to convince my computer, through various machinations, to "recognize" what was waiting for me behind the paperclip symbol, I gave up.

I got in my car, drove to the sender's office, got a paper copy of the document (luckily I always "recognize" paper with words and photos on it), and drove home. Mission accomplished.

What I'm trying to say is, while computers have their place, use only in moderation! If you have something to say to me, pick up the phone! Write me a letter and slap a stamp on it, and I'll look for it in my mailbox.

If you must, send me a quick and simple email and I'll take off my Luddite hat and read it. Better yet, come and visit me, and we'll share a pot of tea and some cookies (try doing that by computer!).

Or we might open a bottle of wine, and drink it, and be giddy, and toast the fact that we won't end up on YouTube.

Jenny Dunlop is an Oakville housewife and mother to three teenagers. Her favourite past job involved dressing up in a pioneer costume and teaching children how people used to live in the early nineteenth century.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 22:01:33

so true Jenny. Great piece. I've always wondered why anyone cares that their friend just ate a peanut butter sandwich or that they are "ready to go to work".
Computers have their place and it ISN'T as the dominant form of entertainment or conversing in our lives.

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By Peter (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 01:50:14

I'm with you, Jenny. Plus, I never turn down an offer of tea and cookies...never.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 08:27:50

On the one hand, there's no question that evangelists and early adopters tend to overpromise the potential of new communications technologies.

On the other, people tend to default around the technologies that defined their youth and remain skeptical about anything new that comes later. I'm a decade younger than Jenny but I'm even starting to experience this. Consider that my older son regards email - a technology I heard about as a late teenager but didn't start using until my twenties - as kind of quaint.

Worse still, I find myself becoming nostalgic. I still use Firefox as my primary browser even though Chrome is unambiguously faster and slicker. I tell myself it's because FF has Firebug and a better DOM inspector, and that's true enough, but it's not the real reason. I've been using Firefox since before it was called Firefox - and before that I used Netscape 4.x.

It's only a matter of time until I'm sitting on my porch in a yellowed undershirt waiting for those dagnabbed kids to try and stick their MyFace profiles on my lawn...

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-23 10:47:28

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 08:41:37

I think a big part of it is having the freedom to pick and choose. I had a very early Twitter account, as news spread quickly of this great new technology among the online training/education elite. It even got to the point that most of them stopped updating their thoughtful, well-written blogs and replaced them with 140 character tweets. So I don't twitter anymore - and I didn't follow celebrities, I followed learning theorists, and found the discussion equally repetetive (TWitter is great!) and meaningless. Meanwhile, I'm a facebook addict - it allows me to keep in touch with people far away that I haven't seen in years, and admittedly, it gives me a chance to fool myself that I am witty and urbane with my regular status updates. Similarly, I love blogs, but never quite got into youtube.

So I think if you view technology as a tool, and take what you need, and discard what you don't want. At least until the power grid becomes unstable due to peak natural gas, and the internet becomes a luxury. (Just thought I'd throw that in there to stir up some trolls!) :)

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 10:21:13

Jenny, I take your 'luddite' status...and raise it a few chips.

I agree with (and laughed at) what you wrote. I've tried to explain some of these online goings on to my father, but it's tough; much of this is generational. And as Ryan pointed out, it runs the gamut. (For an intriguing insight on Facebook, there's a film coming out called 'Social Network', written by Aaron Sorkin ('The West Wing') and directed by David Fincher ('Fight Club'). I've read the screenplay and it really puts into perspective just how much things have changed since the turn of the millennium.) What's most difficult is trying to explain why, if the Internet is capable of bringing the rest of the world so much closer, have we collectively developed more isolating Life-patterns. Never mind a blurring of context regarding what 'friendships' and 'relationships' really are. (There's an essay in this from my POV, but I'll not weigh down the discussion with it. That just wouldn't be good Netiquette, now would it...?)

I said I'll raise you a few chips because my slant about 'modern electronic culture' includes seeing mobile communication (cell phones) as the biggest drug the general population has been introduced to...since cigarettes. And again, propriety has me leaving it at that...and going outside to chat with my neighbour.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 11:11:28

Jenny,

As someone who is a little above average in the techncial saavy department (I can assemble and troubleshoot a computer.) I nevertheless agree with you 100% about the use of technology in moderation.

I don't have a fancy cellphone that plays videos and music, in fact, I don't even have a cellphone. The number of times that I've wished I had one have been minimal, and in most cases there are pefectly acceptable alternatives in place. My opposition to them is not some kind of opposition to technology in general, as I've mentioned I'm very tech saavy. However, I don't want technology to intrude on my life in a way that will impact negatively on the quality of that life. I have a telephone and an answering machine. If people want to get in contact with me, that's not an issue. I don't believe there is anything time sensitive enough that it can't wait until I get home. Same with e-mail - I don't need a blackberry to check it, I'll look at my messages at the end of the day and get back to you then.

Technology can truly invade your life and make you a slave to the device. You see people with bluetooth enabled blackberries who HAVE to check it at every slightest beep and rumble, so much so that I've seen people checking it at every traffic light in their car. While theoretically these devices can increase the speed of communication, all too often they're used to just distribute unnecessary communication. Things that would not warrant a phone call suddenly become text-worthy. As a society we're generating an obscene amount of information - and most of it is trivial and not worth our time.

People wonder how we ever got along without cellphones and blackberries? It was by limiting communication to the truly important things, and not being copied in on useless e-mails or texted meaningless messages.

We may have been less connected, but when we did choose to pick up the phone or send a letter, the connections were much more meaningful.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 11:43:51

A friend of mine was a university basketball coach. And we were talking about the upcoming season, training philosophies, team dynamics, engendering both individuality and esprit de corps. And one thing that he said surprised me...and yet didn't. He joked that he was going to have to have a talk with the athletes about cell phone use. Not during games or practices, of course, but more in a general sense: it's quite evident that 'many people' (sorry, Ryan; I don't have the actual figures... LOL), many students are so attached to their electronic existence that they can't/won't wipe their backsides without texting someone first.

This is the world we've created.

And support...and rave about enthusiastically.

And I can't help but see it as more than a little sad. Because really, it's not like relationships are, across the board, better than they were ten years ago. So we really can't look to cell phones (and other forms of electronic communication) as being mechanisms for 'improving the general lot, bringing people together, enhancing relationships', can we?

Mind you, we now have a set of brand-new industries that we need to keep supporting, just as they support our new value system fixation.

You know; just like the one the automobile/rubber/petroleum industry created almost a century ago...the one we're fighting so valiantly to break ourselves away from, both individually and societally.

Funny, that.

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By Ned (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 14:43:24

Luddites unite eh? You guys should start a Facebook group.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 16:23:54

but never quite got into youtube. - jasonaallen

I do like youtube... the old music videos/TV performances/movies are great. Paul Butterfield live at Monterey, Stevie Wonder doing "Superstitious" on Sesame Street, Ike and Tina doing "Get it On", Husker Du videos, etc, etc… there's some great stuff on there you'll probably never see anywhere else.

But I can't be bothered with Twitter and mainly use Facebook to keep in touch with friends overseas.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 16:27:14

We may have been less connected, but when we did choose to pick up the phone or send a letter, the connections were much more meaningful. - Robert D

Well said Robert.

Back when the word "friend" meant something.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 16:35:25

You know; just like the one the automobile/rubber/petroleum industry created almost a century ago...the one we're fighting so valiantly to break ourselves away from, both individually and societally.

Funny, that. - Schmadrian

Our society basically demands that we keep spending money on something.

Ever notice that you rarely hear mention of the 3Rs anymore... you still hear about recycling and reusing but REDUCING seems to have been given the shiv in a dark alley somewhere???

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 18:43:30

Well, don't get me started on the inherent fallibility of the consumer society. (Which rejects the notion of 'reduction' out of hand. Except when there's a downturn. And people can't consume as much. sigh...)

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By MrGamma (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2010 at 20:58:22

Yeah... I sort of have my own issues with it. But the experience you create, no matter how artificial it is, is created (for the most) part by you and the other people on this planet. So it can be a good source of info. It's nowhere near as good as a forum, or even posting to a blog to be honest... but hey... it's addictive.

That being said... I was basically addicted to pacman growing up. It doesn't take much to keep me entertained.

Now if anyone can score me a ride up to crown land where they're setting up a three day, that will most certainly pry me away from the suburbs.

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By cPan (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 16:22:18

I don't think people are saying the world's better/ relationships are better -- the world has just changed because of what's possible. Articles like this don't mean much to me and the kids I know-- "just pick up the phone" when not one of us has landlines (why pay for a new number every time you move?) and cell numbers change but facebook profiles stay in place; "just go talk to your friends face to face" when there's no way of knowing where they are unless you text them (or they've told you via fb, etc.) and they're likely in another city/province/country but are still dear and still have things to share. I love letters, I still send them, but if I want to have a conversation with someone I can choose to do that, too, and just as cheaply. I sincerely doubt that quality of relationships have suffered or the meaning of friendship is lost (give us a LITTLE credit; also know that one word can have more than one meaning in different contexts)-- I will give you that technology has allowed us to not be big planners.

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By Domino (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2011 at 09:38:38

Well said. These things are so "in your face" all the time. It is good not having to resort to a telephone booth because I have a basic mobile I occasionally use, but Twitter/Facebook and "communities" and the proliferation of gobbledigook are beyond parody.

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