DIY Luddites!

Getting Things Green
Henry here again, filling in for my son Steve, who's still working on a backlog of work. Or so he claims. With the nice beach weather they've been having, I suspect the only thing he's working on is his fifth margarita, but we'll just have to take him at his word.

Perhaps the Luddites were right. Perhaps I should explain.

I was shaving the other day when my mind flashed back to a day when I watched my uncle shave. He looked back at me from the other side of the mirror. It was quite a ritual. And like all good rituals, it only happened at special times.

He shaved once a week because of the Sabbath, whether there was church or not. His was a slow life. He only got around to shaving after having milked the cows, gathered the eggs, fed the pigs, fed and watered the horses, and cooked and ate his breakfast. He would even light the stove before preparing his breakfast. And when he was done, he would go to the tank that hung on the side of the stove and grab a hand basin full of water. Next he would pull the razor out of its case and sharpen it on a leather belt made for the purpose.

I still have his straight razor, and I treasure it. I remember that he'd always nicked himself and then spend the rest of the day with pieces of paper stuck to the cut spots, waiting for them to stop bleeding. He was a deeply private, introverted person and never said anything about this ritual. Although it was fascinating for a young boy to watch. If there was no church, he just sat quietly reading in the kitchen, quite content. The hard work for the day was done.

His life was the one that many health experts suggest as ideal for the giddy multitude: slow, considered and unhurried. Perhaps this technologically simple life should be a goal for us all. He heated with wood, not oil. He had no radio, no phone, and of course, no electrically powered technology. In his own way, he was a Luddite.

The Luddites were a group of textile-makers in early 19th century England who were against technology in the form of machines that replaced their labor and registered their displeasure by smashing the machines to bits and actually clashing with the British army. The Luddites weren't known for their subtlety.

It strikes me that the people who embrace D*I*Y could also be classified as neo-luddites. Now I doubt that anyone reading this article is going to rush out and smash the office fax machine; but the patrons of this site do have an affinity for older technology. And before anyone points it out, I realize the irony of calling people who frequent a website Luddites. Thank you.

Despite the fact that we all keep in touch with this website, it seems that many of us enjoy using older technology. Some of you may even have once again taken up the use of the straight razor. I never had the nerve to use one. I always feared that I would behead myself. I've never used a fountain pen due to similar health and safety concerns. But lots of people on this site do. In the age when the computer is king, we revel in the feel, texture, use and enjoyment of real paper, leather journals and proper pens, rather than a keyboard and a word processor. Many of us even use these templates to organize our creativity and keep journals at home.

Using this 21st Century website, we are falling back on a method of communicating and record keeping with which my uncle would have been happy.

But then perhaps modern computer technology, the snazziest laptop and the newest iPod, is not the last word in human happiness. Perhaps we all need to slow down and enjoy the flow of words, the scratch of pens, the smell of good paper, and the joy of having words grow under ones hand. Perhaps the Luddites were on to something after all.

Henry Sharam

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Great post. I do agree.

Great post.

I do agree. Although I have spent my life as an early adopter before I even knew what it meant (I got my first computer in 1988 when I was 7 years old, and was on the old q-link networks) there are some old time past times that really do bring me joy. Knitting and crotchet have been a favorite for over 13 years, and I have only recently discovered how pen and paper can do what Google Calendar and Apple iCal never will. Fine paper. A good quality roller ball pen (I, too, fear the fountain pen). A nice quiet room filled with books. Simply wonderful.

But I have to say that I think modern technologies can sometimes, ironically even, bring us the slowness and peace that we crave. Some nights I will play one of David Attenborough's Life Of... nature documentary DVD series and just fall asleep to tales of how birds fly, or how insects parent. These are amazingly quiet and happy times in NYC, a place where quiet and peace seem to be worth more than gold.

Luddite & Squibo

Didn't realize what a Luddite was until I read this. DIY educates again.

I find my greatest joy is in doing things with my hands. The oddest thing is that this is a pattern I've seen in my IT industry. Most of the techs I know have some hands-on home hobby: cabinet making, stone, garden, drawing, and painting. I think it's a right / left brain balance thing.

On a broader scale I believe that with the emergence of scrapbooking, journaling, and crafts growing in popularity we are seeing a general trend toward the HUMAN touch. People want control over their stuff. They are a bit put off by the digital world but don't want to give it up completely.

My son and I have been discussing this for over a year now. He's very artistic and has his successful t-shirt design site. He's been pushing me to start a hand-created postcard site.

So as an experiment I set up a site on one of the social networks called Squibo. The idea is that we will only post hand created postcards sent in to us. In other words, to participate you need to create something with your hands, no technology (no photographs). I will not bore you here with the details (maybe it's too late for that), but I'll post any results later...if any are interested.

insomnia cure


Great stuff. I never get very far from psychological type so both of your comments ring that bell for me.

My own sense is that sensing types, those people who are in the majority, who specialize in focusing on using their five senses are best with their hands. They have to get their hands on things. I have been surprised to learn that IT people seem to be predomnatly sensing types.

On the other hand intuitive people like me, who are living largly in some never never land, NEED to use our hands to help us come down to the ground and be more realistic. Sensing types like my uncle seem to love it,and intuitive types like myself seem to need it to make us more practical.
Can you think of any examples where this difference comes out in other places? Love to hear them.

sounds interesting

If you post about that postcard thing or want to pm me about it... I would so appreciate it :) (I'm trying to keep my creativity afloat these days)

my artwork | my blog

you have mail

check your inbox...

insomnia cure

Paper is technology too.

Paper is technology too.

Luddites -- and community

At one point -- years ago (my disclaimer in case my recollection is somewhat short of complete veracity)-- I read that the Luddites were not opposed to all technology / all change, but only those changes that negatively affected their sense of commmunity. Their issue with the British texile machines was the fostering of cities -- more correctly, the need to abandon their rural living where each family did their own weaving through the long Scottish winters. They saw it as a British plot to get them off their ancestor lands and enslave them in a factory somewhere. Based upon what I have read of the early industrial revolution, their fears may not have been completely unfounded.

Based upon this understanding of a Luddite, I have worn my frequently lambased title with some measure of pleasure. I use technology, but I am not in love with it. I want to know, from every software update, how will this improve my life and the life of those with whom I work. Will this streamline our operations? Will it eliminate overtime (my managers are all exempt status so the elimination of overtime is not dollar driven)? Will it simplify our processes? If it does not accomplish these tasks, then I adopt as late as possible -- if it does, then I adopt early.

I have resisted a Blackberry for myself and my managers because I see no life improvement -- it is all pain and no gain. I have competent managers working for me who are more than capable of making decisions in my absence. My managers have competent staff working for them. If the building is on fire don't call me, call the fire department! Why do we need to be plugged in 24/7?

I carry a cell phone because it aids in communication between my beloved spouse and me; between my daughter (and five grandchildren) and me; between my son and me; between my friends and me. The cell phone builds community. But, I know where the mute button is, and when I am with someone, I am with them -- the phone is off.... When technology improves community, I am all for it; when it doesn't, then I am agin' it.

This website builds community -- there are many helpful answers here. Someone has a problem or an issue and almost instantly there are a dozen responses. Technology can build community.

But when technology leads to isolation, to a withdrawal from real people, when avatars are more important than the real people in life, then, technology should be resisted.

The cold plastic of a computer will never replace the worn leather of a favorite book; keyboard strokes will never be as satisfying or revealing as the flow of ink out of a pen on paper.

The Passionate Pilgrim
-- Excellence through Simplicity

Too true!

"If the building is on fire don't call me, call the fire department!" Now, there's advice for living:P

I agree completely that the newest technology doesn't always mean an improvement in our lives. I've been burned a couple times by buying the first version of something that was buggy, only to have them come out with a better version a year later. I'm now patently against the first generation of everything. Anyone heard of "Vista"? *shudder*

Steve Sharam

Tools and their meaning

Henry, great article.

There's a definite gap to be crossed between tools and their uses. The world is filled with people who are passionate about one tool or another, meanwhile losing sight of the point of the tool's existence or purpose. I'm a musician, and it's particularly rampant in that field of interest - people having religious wars, or endless e-mail discussions, over the subtle differences between this compression scheme or that, between analog control or digital, vacuum tubes vs. solid state, and on and on. It's almost as if the intended use of a piece of musical gear, to make music, is almost secondary to the exploration of how it works, and how it compares to other ways of doing similar things.

Part of the danger of being tool-makers, I suppose. I'll certainly admit to being drawn into technological fascination, pens and paper included, before I find my level with any particular thing. To a man with a new hammer, the world appears to be filled with nails. That is, until he gets that new mitre saw...

So true

That is so true. I've found that anyone who works with a computer for artistic purposes is the same, insisting on using one piece of software over another, even though both are often almost the same. And in music especially we see hold-over technology: The basic guitar and keyboard designs are centuries old. Still playing those same old notes:)

Steve Sharam

Ah, but some are the opposite...

I find it difficult to hang onto one piece of software for anything. I tend to gather a rather large conglamoration of tools. For instance word processors. I have bunches that I use--and I use all of them! It all depends what my particular need is at the time, and which will allow me to most quickly accomplish that task. Oddly, for some things, I even use DevonThink--not for its intended purpose (in a manner of speaking) but because of how it allows me to simply write without worrying about the tool--and it also contains my references, thus keeping me from having to jump to another program. Same is true for graphics apps. I use Illustrator, Inkscape, Photoshop (and on the rare occasion--Gimp), as well as Apple's Preview app, iPhoto, Canon's DPP, and a few other lesser-known apps. And for Bible software, I even boot up Ubuntu, simply to use a couple apps I can't get to work on OS X. When it comes to tools, I'm pretty agnostic, preferring to find a particular tool that does the job right.

I never really think about it... I just do it. Sometimes, at the start of a project, I'll play with a few programs, trying to get a feel, but typically, I know from the start, and launch it, and get to work. BTW, I also have a rather large toolbox, and bunches of screwdrivers, a few different sized and shaped hammers, and way too many wrenches, etc. ;-)

I don't think I'm that odd, either... Jack of all trades--master of none!


I love both

Great article. I'm not sure I'm a Luddite. I love technology and this site. I think you've hit on something, though, in that paper and things like fountain pens are more sensual.

I loved my first Palm PDA. With it I was extremely organized. But the novelty of the digital PDA wore off eventually.

Paper and pens are always new. I vary my pen based on my mood. When I write, I notice how the gel or fountain pen ink glides over paper. I love a Moleskine journal to record my thoughts. Every time I write in it, I notice how the paper feels. My penmanship changes based on my mood. Depending on the pen I've chosen, I might have to wait a moment before turning the page. I like waiting and watching the ink dry.

I still drool over smartphones and other gadgets, even though I'm not spending money on them. I don't think that will change. And I love my Alphasmart Neo. I would be excited to have a laptop after parting with my last one as well, but the budget doesn't permit it right now. All these technological goodies just don't allow for the personalization that comes with some of the older technologies, however. I'm glad to live in this day and age where I can enjoy both.


Great stuff. Clearly it is a beans and wieners situation. It seems best to have both together although each stands alone if necessary.

It is the same with out type. We can use and really need to use both sides of our personality the sensing and the intuitive.

Maybe there is a saturation point. for myself, I do not drool over smart phones. I fear that they will be smarter than me and I will never figure them out. How are the rest of us with technology?

Saturation point

I should note I've never *owned* a smartphone. However, I've had friends that have owned them. I remember having asked them what they thought about them right after they bought them, and they gushed about how cool they were. Months later, I asked them the same question. So far 100% declare with equal vigor how much they hate them. They're also scrolling emails periodically during get-togethers. Perhaps the key with technology is partly in finding your own set-point and knowing when to turn the dang things off?

You got it

Amen, sister:)

Steve Sharam

Finding balance

I admit it, I'm a huge gadget geek. I love portable stuff, especially -- tiny little electronics that fit in a pocket. The combination of "cute" and "useful" is way too appealing to me. I also do most of my writing on a computer, for the simple reason that I get hand cramps if I write with pen and paper for too long.

But I'm a very tactile creature. I love taking notes for my classes, because it's an excuse to use my fountain pens. (Ohhhh, and I love my fountain pens.) And I do a lot of knitting and spinning. That's my major outlet for doing things with my hands. I always have a sock-in-progress in my bag, so I can knit at any opportunity. It's calming and it never fails to make me happy. Touching soft wool and performing the amazing feat of turning a sheep's coat into something warm and practical and beautiful is an incredible experience.

So I'm another IT person who needs to indulge the senses regularly. I spent 12 years as a programmer, and I'm currently back in college for a degree in computer networking and system administration. I love computers and my life would be an emptier place without them, if only for the many friends I've made online over the years. But they aren't the most important thing in my world, not by a long shot...

[ blog | photos ]


This historian is laughing her butt off.

Now, be nice

Now, now, be nice. We're all practical people here. Historical allusion isn't our specialty:)

Pyramidiology: What you get when you mix pyramids and idiots.

Steve Sharam


I embrace tachnology but some is the pits in my view. I got a new laptop which carried the latest thing from Microsoft vista instead of windows xp. Am I the only one who thinks it is a piece of junk or is it another example of the smart phone being smarter than me?

Henry Sharam

no, no, vista does suck

no, no, vista does suck

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.

I heard a theory

A friend of mine has a theory that Vista isn't a terrible operating system, but rather a very good tool for masochists, people who like to have pain inflicted on them. I'm not certain, but I think he might be on to something there:P

Pyramidiology: What you get when you mix pyramids and idiots.

Steve Sharam

LOL :)

He may well have a point. :) :)

Levenger stole ALL of my money, but they left me all these nice, shiny organizational tools.


Steve - what would we do without you? lol

my theory on technology is ... by the time I can afford it - all the bugs are worked out AND something newer and better is out so the price is lower!

my artwork | my blog

It's called 'trailing edge' technology --

not the latest and coolest but, by damn, some ELSE has taken care of finding the worst bugs for us. :D

I give it a different name...

... I'm a bottom-feeder....

I tend to buy tech that is old, but solid--this has been true for VCRs, stereo equipment, computers, Palm PDAs, phones--you name it. I'm a bottom feeder--Palm T/T Sony/Ericcson T630, Apple Pismo, Canon D30(not the 30D), and I forget what else--bunch of ancient stereo components)



Goes good with the mullet and the Hall And Oates 8-tracks:)

Pyramidiology: What you get when you mix pyramids and idiots.

Steve Sharam


I still buy records at garage sales :D Mostly for display because my parents misplaced my fisher-price record player in the abyss of their basement.

my artwork | my blog

That's rich:P

Fisher-Price record player?! Ha, wow you do go for old technology don't you?:P lol

Pyramidiology: What you get when you mix pyramids and idiots.

Steve Sharam

lol vintage gooods

Its the one I grew up with :) I even have a collection of disney storybooks on record somewhere over there too. :D

my artwork | my blog

Are those the ones....

that had the storybook in the fold-out LP sleeve? And you could read along with the LP? We had those--hopefully my parents _still_ have them! I loved them as a child. :-)


A propos use of the term

You guys rock on the contrary.


See that's what I've been saying, but it's nice to have independent conformation:)

Pyramidiology: What you get when you mix pyramids and idiots.

Steve Sharam


Fisher Price record player. I wonder where I could get one. Perhaps that is my speed. Could I trade my Vista for your machine?
Henry Sharam

It would be a step up

Ha, yeah, that would certainly be a step up in terms of technology:)

Pyramidiology: What you get when you mix pyramids and idiots.

Steve Sharam