Confessions of a Latter-Day Luddite
by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.

In my good dreams the phone is not ringing. On my best days the starter goes unturned, the monitor is blank and nothing gets scanned. I walk or ride a bike whenever practical, pay cash mostly and disconnected the cable TV long ago. Pollsters and marketers lurk in the dark alleys of the media. If it has a magnetic strip, it can't be trusted.

Machines are maddening; technology is terrifying. And yet I work all day at computers and make a living through their connections to the Internet. They allow me to be rural but not rustic, connected but not hardwired.

I am what you might call a Latter-Day Luddite..

Rustic Tuscany by Liz Jardine A Luddite is someone who is anti-technology, or at least
that's the common use of the term. If you don't own a computer, are afraid of bioengineered foods, or think that things were made better fifty years ago than they are today, you're likely to be called a Luddite. Two hundred years ago that was a hanging offense. 

The first Luddites were framework knitters, or "stockingers," in central England who were upset about new machinery being introduced into factories that produced cheap stockings and replaced skilled craftsmen with mindless laborers.

"It was not so much a particular machine that raised the stockingers' ire but new patterns of labor forced upon them by unscrupulous middle men and the least principled hosiers who were substituting poor quality work, which could be sold more cheaply and so drove out the good," explains Nicols Fox in "Against the Machine," a history of the Luddite tradition in Western society over the past two centuries. "The less discerning customer hardly knew the difference or didn't care."

When the Luddites -- named after an abused weaving  apprentice Ned Ludd who took a hammer to his machine -- started busting up the new machinery that was turning proud men into paupers, over 14,000 troops were called in to restore order and quash their rebellion.

"The Luddites were infiltrated. Informers were paid," Fox explains. "Individuals were arrested and tried. 

"After the first trials, eight were hanged, seventeen transported, thirteen imprisoned, and twenty acquitted. The trials would continue, with similar results."

The "rebellion" continued for a couple years with a few more episodes of machine-smashing, but the neck of Ludditism was broken on the gallows and the progress of the industrial revolution continued apace. And yet, Ludditism did not die, and it has not died. It lives on in our literature, as Fox documents, and in rural places bypassed by the mainstream culture.

Fox interviews and profiles "technology resistors" who have consciously adopted lifestyles that reject machinery of one sort or another, from "off-the-grid" homesteaders to Pennsylvania Quakers to roving Gypsy-like bands of  protesters in England. What is an acceptable tool to one may be a source of tyranny for another; there are no rules to their resistance.

Modern-day Ludditism is not so much about smashing machines or stopping them as refusing to use them, or buy into them. Unlike the stockingers, there are no longer any illusions about halting "progress" or turning back the tide on technology.

In my own life, I find that email frees me from the phone and e-commerce gets me off the highways. I utilize one technology to avoid another. 

Working online may seem  high-tech to some, but for anyone connected to the latest  computer gadgetry my reliance on five-year-old hardware and software appears hopelessly archaic.

I am a Luddite, I confess, but not a very pure one. 

Rural Delivery
Rural Delivery

Commentaries and advice 
on rural living
by Michael Hofferber
Visit the Rural Delivery Blog
Against the Machine
Against the Machine
The Hidden Luddite Tradition in Literature, Art, and Individual Lives

Farmers Market Books
Market Entrance
The Nature Pages
Lease a Booth
Search the Market
Buy Direct Directory