The “New” Luddite Movement, Or The Steam Train Stops Here

Let me come clean: I collect (in a modest way almost suited to my minuscule budget) “analog” writing instruments like fountain pens and typewriters. So I own a few, and even occasionally use them. And I’m not alone: there’s a growing community of people into non-digital writing devices. But you know what happens when a hobby becomes a trend. You know. People start thinking of themselves, not as participators in a pleasant pastime, but as a vanguard of a movement. In short, they get up themselves. I see more and more signs that the analog crowd is getting too big for their britches. For example, the so-called “anti-digital device” movement, with its attendant calls for “banning” and “forbidding” and bragging how much better one group is over the other. So despite my fondness for retro office equipment this is one bandwagon I can’t jump off from fast enough.

For example, there’s the thing I’m seeing about the “need” for places outside the home that don’t have wifi, so that people who go there will be unable to use their digital gadgets, and haha I’m here writing my Best-Selling Novel on an expensive pad of French paper with my $500 $3,387.95 fountain pen* so I’m Better Than You. I propose that this is ridiculous. I can also see the forces behind this, and they are for the most part well-off white people who can afford to coffee-shop-hop until they find the “right” one with the proper blend of the latest trends. But beware, coffee shop and cute little eatery owners! These trends always change, you will never be able to catch up, never satisfy the gaping void of need for novelty that drives these people.

So, there are places that are now proudly declaring their lack of wifi. I don’t think businesses should provide wifi if they don’t want to, but I’d like to know if they’ve thought this through sufficiently. Probably not: Western civilization doesn’t encourage introspection past a certain point, and that point would be one where you question your own motives. But it’s their business, and I’m all about letting people do whatever they want on their own dime. Unlike the smartened up little fascists that too many of the anti-digital people seem to be under their supposed concern for culture, or society, or whatever lie they’ve cooked up as an excuse this time. I’ve been around awhile, and I’ve heard it all: a favorite is this or that invention “causes us to be more isolated from each other”, never mind being on the internet or phone call means you’re in contact with other people.

I also find it telling that this sudden push towards places where digital devices are banned has risen just as it’s become clear that non-white and/or non-wealthy people have growing access to things like smartphones and computers. Oh, I’m sure it’s not intentional (it never is), but how odd in a day when “Black Twitter” is a talked about thing there are suddenly wifi-less establishments springing up here and there, not quite like mushrooms, but definitely like some sort of insidious growth.

So anyway, there are two things going on in this story: rude, inconsiderate customers, and the way our “capitalist” society constantly has to moralize sensible business decisions. It’s not enough that people were colonizing tables all day; the owners have to spout some bullshit about how “it’s not just about money” but how “people looking at their screens with a blank stare” aren’t participating in some sort of ersatz “community” that supposedly exists in a coffee house. Quite frankly I’d respect the owners of these places more if they’d just drop the Aunt Gladys and the 4-H Club “oh you can’t want to be by yourself!” act and just admit they were tired of people basically living in their establishment virtually rent-free. It’s rude to take up a table without a good reason, and your need to work on your Nanowrimo draft all day isn’t one of them.

But as I said, this isn’t really about the rudeness of others or the bad effects on society of people looking at a computer screen with a “blank stare” instead of participating in a “community.” If it was, they wouldn’t allow people to sit alone at a table and read a book or write on their precious paper pads. It certainly isn’t about noise, as part of this thing is people wanting to use typewriters in these places. (I can’t wait for the hilarious backlash against establishments full of people using typewriters. Those things are loud, even one is much louder than 1,000 laptop keyboards typing at once.) It’s all about showing off how you are a special snowflake that doesn’t need to “depend” on digital media, unlike those sheeple with their smart phones and computers who are talking to relatives thousands of miles away or working on their dissertations so they will be able to get a job and not be deported or just people kicking back and relaxing with Facebook after a hard day at work because what is to you what they’re doing as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else?

Inspiration for this post: this tweet by Sherman Alexie. Now I realize he is not white, and I apologize for making an example of him as his remarks aren’t the first time I came across this, but his choice of words is interesting: “forbid” and “outlaw” and “allow.” I don’t know what his damage is regarding digital devices in eateries, but I have certainly never heard of one that didn’t allow pencils and paper, at any time, ever. Maybe someone out there could enlighten me?

*Holy SHIT that is ridiculous. Also looks like a standard boring Lamy nib, which you can get attached to a Lamy pen that costs less than $30.00.

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