Luddite in a Bright Light

I can be an ornery Luddite.  I use plenty of technologies, but rarely wax poetical about them. I am usually the curmudgeonly voice of disdain.  This last couple weeks, I was in Paris with my friend Palash, who runs the internet from an inconspicuous office near the Opera.  Unsurprisingly, he geeks out on technology a lot more than I do, and over and over I met his enthusiasms with knee-jerk hesitancy.

“Why do you hate on technology so much?” he asked me in a remote Italian town.  I didn’t have a good answer, though I’m sure I came back fists flying.  Good friends both delight in you as you are and stretch you.  And so I’ve been rolling his question around in my mind, not because my position on the subject necessarily needs to change, but because knee-jerk fanaticism is no fun, and Palash’s thoughtful thoughts deserve better response.

I have thought, among others, these thoughts:

1. There are lots of technological things I like: word processors, the Internets, typewriters, food processors, crock pots, flashlights, power tools, telephones, hot water heaters, washing machines, fast transportation, music and movie players, cameras, precision dental tools….

2. However, I see most of these things as means to an end.  I am wary of any kind of internal dependence on them.

3. Sometimes things, especially cool gadgety things and intelligent things, can give you a kind of high, a little like being in a city. Our brains like stimulation and social interaction, and we like that for a reason.  But I want to balance that with the internal stillness I feel lying in a meadow on a blue sky day.

4. This kind of stillness, along with many physical and intuitive ways of knowing the world, feel easily lost in the wash of abstract, factual information the internet etc. is so excellent at providing.  Something is lost when something is gained, I guess, but I want to at least stand back and consider the trade.

5. There is just so much freaking boosterism for technology that the contrary hipster in me needs to boo at the parade,  “EMF’s suck, suckers!”  I mean, I really wouldn’t say so many bad things about technology if it weren’t pushed like a street drug.

6. The technology that is shaping our world is being actively shaped with a world in mind.  In some ways, I agree with the vision.  I like the democratic, connected, easeful, multitudinousness of the internet a lot.  But there is more to being human than diving into the flow of information.  There is something else, something still, and sacred, and strange, that smells like damp soil and feels like night arms.  It can come out through technology for sure — how could it not come out in something with so much of the human circus in it? — but it isn’t helped by technology.  Sometimes it feels like the world-shapers forget about this.

7. I care about that other thing a great deal.  Sometimes, despite genuinely loving the human carnival, and being thankful for brilliant tools like word processors, and appreciating good intellectual questions, technology just seems to be missing the point, and I get bored with it.

8. Maybe this is what Palash wants to address with his electric cats.

9. A sense of benign disregard, wry curiosity, and thought-out opinions would probably do me better than automatic disdain.

10.  Yes, stretching indeed.